RealTime IT News

Yahoo Snags DARPA AI Guru for NYC Research

Yahoo formally announced its two-month old research center in New York City, welcoming Ron Brachman as vice president of worldwide research operations and head of the facility.

Meanwhile, Google, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems kicked in to fund a new U.C. Berkeley research facility.

The latest of Yahoo's think tanks will focus on social media.

Brachman is an artificial intelligence guru, and a former president of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. He comes to Yahoo from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where he directed its Information Processing Technology Office. While there he developed IPTO's cognitive systems initiative. Before that, he was a research vice president at AT&T Labs, where he developed its AI group.

Brachman said he was looking forward to the cultural shift.

"I've had lot of experience with bigger, serious, more elaborate organizations," he said. "One of the really fun things [about this new position] is the challenge of bringing responsible, deep, serious scientific research to a company and group where things move very fast. The style of interaction is different, the whole industry is exciting and fun, and the pace is tremendous."

Zvi Galil, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, said he looked forward to the potential for Columbia students to work with the Yahoo researchers. Although no formal partnership was announced, Brachman told internetnews.com, "Now is the time to open those discussions."

Brachman will report directly to Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo Research. The company also has facilities in Sunnyvale, Burbank and Berkeley, California.

He said one of his goals is to raise the profile of Yahoo Research while supporting actual research.

"Yahoo, like many young companies, has many very strong technical people, but it didn't have a separate culture of longer-term scientific research that includes prominent leadership positions at important conferences publishing important papers and books and the wherewithal to sit back and think a bit longer-term than the next product release," he said.

"One of the fun and challenging things will be to balance the need to think deeply and to work on very hard problems, while responding to the company when it needs help and working with the company at the pace it needs to go."

Computer science research seems to have been on everyone's mind this week. In an unrelated announcement, the somewhat unlikely combo of Microsoft , Google and Sun Microsystems announced they had funded a new Internet research laboratory on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. (Yahoo announced a partnership with U.C. Berkeley in July.

The three companies will provide $7.5 million over five years to fund research at the Reliable, Adaptive and Distributed systems laboratory, or RAD Lab.

RAD Lab researchers will focus on developing alternatives to traditional software engineering, which follows a "waterfall" model of development. In such a traditional system, work is completed in orderly stages starting from system concept to development, assessment or testing, deployment and operation.

Critics say the traditional waterfall model is often too slow and therefore obsolete for the high-paced Internet era. Instead of infrequent, well-tested upgrades, code for Internet services is continually being modified on the fly as the product is scaled up to accommodate millions of users.

In fact, this is the model that Microsoft has switched to, one that Greg Sullivan, a lead Windows product manager credited with keeping Windows Vista on schedule.

Along with additional smaller contributions from other affiliated companies, the research laboratory is expected to receive as much as 80 percent of its support from industry. Grants from the National Science Foundation and the UC Discovery and the Microelectronics Innovation and Computer Research Opportunities programs will make up the remaining proportion of the funding for the center.

Also on Thursday, Google announced it would open a research lab in Pittsburgh sometime in 2006.