Computer science and mathematics graduate Ilya Sutskever (MSc 2007, PhD 2013) no longer remembers the name of the California restaurant where the idea of a non-profit artificial intelligence research company first emerged.
But a dinner conversation between Sutskever, billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, the largest U.S. seed fund, and Greg Brockman, the former chief technology officer of Stripe, among others, put forward a plan for OpenAI.
Just five years ago, Sutskever, fellow PhD student Alex Krizhevsky and world-renowned computer science professor Geoffrey Hinton had developed an image recognition algorithm that dramatically outperformed all existing algorithms, by training a very large neural network on a dataset of 1 million images. The trio founded DNNresearch Inc., named after the deep neural networks – or deep learning – used by their system and within a few months, their startup was sold to Google Inc.
Both Krizhevsky and Sutskever joined Google as research scientists. Hinton also joined the company and is now a vice-president engineering fellow at Google.
Today Sutskever is the research director for OpenAI. He talked with U of T's Nina Haikara about his time at the university and Google with Hinton and Krizhevsky, today's artificial intelligence renaissance – and that first dinner conversation at a restaurant located somewhere along Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park where many venture capital firms reside.
“It was an extremely difficult decision,” says Sutskever. “I was very happy at the Google Brain team. It was moving forward on an extremely strong trajectory – I would be taking no risk by staying and have much to gain.”
Read the Q&A at U of T News