Yann LeCun in Eindhoven

LeCun looks for an explanation for the underlying mechanisms of intelligence, just as the theory of thermodynamics only became clear after the construction of the steam engine

Yann LeCun, head of Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research Group (FAIR), and considered one of the doyens of AI, delivered this year’s Holst Lecture, as the recipient of the 2018 Holst Medal. The annual award is hosted by Philips Research, Signify and TU/e, and is in honour of the significant contribution to research made by Dr Gilles Holst, director of Philips’s NatLab from 1914 to 1946.

LeCun, who in 2013 was asked by Mark Zuckerberg to drive Facebook’s AI research programme, is a strong proponent of open innovation and multi-disciplinary research, much in the spirit of the approach taken by Dr Holst. He is known for his work in machine learning, computer vision, mobile robotics, and computational neuroscience; the handwriting-recognition technology that he developed is used by many banks worldwide, and his image compression technology, DjVu, is used extensively to access scanned documents online. His convolutional network model is applied in image recognition by companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Baidu.

(See also: Tomorrow is good: The ten commandments of Holst).

Having flown in overnight from his New York base, and dressed in the casual elegance more reminiscent of his Silicon-valley employer than of his engineering and academic profession, LeCun addressed students, academics and industry-based researchers in the TU/e Auditorium in Eindhoven. Along with an overview of the history of AI, he outlined some of the research questions that FAIR is addressing today, and listed features that AI simply cannot provide yet, given the current state of the science: What we are still missing, are machines with common sense, intelligent personal assistants, smart chatbots and household robots.

The reason why this is not yet possible, he said, is that machines do not yet have the ability to reason, nor can they react by planning suitable follow-up action. “For that, machines need a model of the world”.

The FAIR team, which has about 200 members worldwide, publishes all of its work, in the form of papers and source code, in the public domain. According to LeCun, this is in the interest of speeding up scientific innovation in AI. “The reason why we do this, is that we get people to use our tools, and to improve on our method, so that, essentially, it becomes much easier for us to move faster. We need to make progress faster”.

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About the author

Author profile picture Erika van der Merwe is a writer. She is exploring Eindhoven’s exciting world of tech and innovation. As a non-native tech speaker, she finds ways to understand and present the many abstract and technical concepts generated in this busy region. She loves to discover the human aspect in every story.