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Leaked memo: Google is spinning up a new internal group focused on machine learning in a push to make ‘substantial gains’ in AI

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

  • Google is spinning up a new internal group focused on machine learning.
  • The group will live in Google’s core division, which focuses on the company’s own products.
  • The move signals the growing importance of machine learning for the future of Google’s business.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Google is spinning out dozens of employees from its artificial-intelligence research division into a new group focused on machine learning, as part of a push to make “substantial gains” in AI, Insider has learned.


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The group will be “the new center of gravity” for how Google applies machine learning to its own products, according to a memo sent to staff recently, a copy of which Insider reviewed. It will sit inside Google’s core division, which builds the technical infrastructure behind Google’s flagship products.

The move underscores the growing importance of machine learning – in which algorithms are trained with large data sets and improve through experience – for the future of Google’s business. CEO Sundar Pichai has made huge bets on AI, once calling the technology more profound than fire or electricity.

“This will better position us to achieve the company-level OKR: to make substantial gains in artificial intelligence over the next 2-3 years to improve how people interact with knowledge,” Senior Research Director Zoubin Ghahramani wrote in the memo, using an acronym for objectives and key results.

The new group will be led by Nadav Eiron, previously an engineering vice president in the AI division, according to the memo. Employees from several teams in research who are working on machine-learning projects will come together to form the group. The memo mentions that employees from other Google product areas are joining too, but those details were not yet available.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the move.

“Machine learning has matured to the point that it’s central to the technologies and products used across Google every day, so we’re expanding our infrastructure for ML centrally,” the spokesperson told Insider. “At the same time, we’re also growing the teams in Google Research, innovating on AI and related areas.”

Two people at Google said many of the changes make sense. “Some people’s work was better aligned with that team than research,” one said. “They can have much larger impact.” The insiders asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak with the media.

In the memo, Ghahramani said the unification of various groups into the new team would help Google “better meet the challenge of the quickly evolving hardware and software space around” machine learning.

More moves for Google’s AI division

This is the second known move in Google’s research group in recent weeks.

Last week, Insider reported that Google was shifting more than 100 employees out of its health division, which also lives inside research, and moving them into the company’s search and Fitbit divisions. Most of the employees who moved were focused on consumer-facing products.

Taken together, the changes suggest Google is thinking more carefully about how it can best place its talent to benefit its bottom line and the future of its products.

Google’s AI research division has also been roiled by controversy in recent months, after the company ousted two prominent AI ethics researchers, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell. That prompted a backlash from employees and members of the research community who questioned the company’s dedication to pursuing ethical AI as well as its treatment of employees.

Amid the fallout in April, Samy Bengio, a well-known researcher who oversaw Gebru and Mitchell’s former team, announced his resignation from Google. He has since joined Apple.

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