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Three pioneers in the artificial intelligence Win Turing Award

SAN FRANCISCO – In 2004, Geoffrey Hinton doubled on his quest for a technical idea called a neural network.

It was a way for machines to see the world around them, recognize sound and understand natural language. But scientists had spent more than 50 years on the neural network concept, and machines couldn't do any of that.

Withdrawn by the Canadian Government, Dr. Hinton, a computer science professor at the University of Toronto, organized a new research team with several graduates who also tackled the concept. They included Yann LeCun, a professor at New York University and Yoshua Bengio at the University of Montreal.

On Wednesday, the Association for Computing Machinery, the world's largest community of data professionals, announced that Drs. Hinton, LeCun and Bengio had won this year's Turing Award for their work on neural networks. The Turing Prize, which was introduced in 1966, is often called the Nobel Prize for calculation, and it includes a prize of $ 1 million shared by the three researchers.

The London-born Dr. Hinton, 71, first embraced the idea of ​​a graduate student in the early 1970s, a time when most artificial intelligence scientists turned against it. Even his own Ph.D. adviser questioned the election.

"We met once a week," says Dr. Hinton in an interview. "Sometimes it ended in a screaming match, sometimes not."

Neural networks had a short resuscitation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After one year of doctoral research with Dr. Hinton in Canada moved the Paris-born Dr. LeCun to AT & T's Bell Labs in New Jersey, where he designed a neural network that could read handwritten letters and numbers. An AT&T subsidiary sold the system to banks and at one time it read about 10 percent of all checks written in the US.

Although a neural network could read handwriting and help with any other tasks, it could not make much progress with great AI tasks such as recognizing faces and objects in photos, identifying spoken words and understanding the natural way one speaks.

"They worked well only when you had a lot of training data and there were few areas that had lots of training data," Dr. LeCun, 58, said.

But some researchers continued, including the Parisian-born Dr. Bengio, 55, who worked with Dr. LeCun at Bell Labs before joining the University of Montreal.

In 2004, Dr. Hinton a research program dedicated to what he called "neural calculation and adaptive perception". He offered Dr. Bengio and Dr. LeCun to join him.

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