Our Exciting New Partnership with Carnegie Mellon University

By Ron Brachman, Chief Scientist and Head of Yahoo Labs

Last year was a wonderful year for Yahoo Labs. Among our most exciting accomplishments was our success in hiring more than 50 new PhDs to join our research teams around the world. But that was just a first step for us; we’re always looking for outstanding people to complement our team of cutting-edge computer scientists and research engineers, and work with us to push the boundaries of research and innovation at Yahoo. Today, we’re thrilled to announce a new five-year, $10 million partnership with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) that aims to do just that. There are many things that are novel about this new collaboration, and we couldn’t be more excited.

All of us here at Yahoo Labs can’t wait for the opportunity to work with the exceptional faculty and students at Carnegie Mellon, which has established itself as a premier institution for machine learning and human-computer interaction research, and these are the main focal areas of our partnership. As part of this partnership, we’re creating a way for CMU researchers to work directly with Yahoo’s software and infrastructure. This should allow us to speed up the pace of personalization research, especially in a mobile setting, and ultimately create a better user experience for our hundreds of millions of users.

One highlight of the partnership is an industry-first mobile toolkit that will enable CMU researchers to easily experiment with Yahoo’s real-time data services, letting them test new ways that machine learning and interface technologies can improve personalized user experiences. We like to think of this as part of a grand-scale living laboratory where researchers can explore new approaches to understanding human behavior through machine learning and interface technologies. Members of the CMU community who opt in to test the experimental mobile software will provide researchers access to real user data and the opportunity to iterate rapidly on key technologies.

We are also unveiling a new Yahoo-sponsored fellowship program that will provide financial and research support to CMU computer science students and faculty members. Yahoo Fellows will have the opportunity to conduct research across a variety of advanced computer science disciplines with annual financial support from Yahoo and mentorship from world-class computer scientists at Yahoo Labs and CMU. Among other things, we’re looking forward to highly productive visits by the Yahoo Fellows to our Sunnyvale and New York research labs, as well as lots of interactions during Yahoo visits to Pittsburgh.

CMU President Dr. Subra Suresh is equally enthusiastic: “This partnership is a clear demonstration, in the tradition of CMU, of how scholarly scientific research combined with industry relevance and perspectives could advance technologies that have a global social impact.”

The partnership, called “InMind,” will be directed at CMU by Dr. Tom Mitchell, Fredkin University Professor of Computer Science and Machine Learning and head of the Machine Learning Department, and by Dr. Justine Cassell, the Charles M. Geschke Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

Finally, a more personal note: I am extremely happy to be working again with my long-time friend and colleague, Tom Mitchell. Tom and I are a couple of hard-core AI guys who go way back. We’ve had wonderful opportunities to work together in the past, including both serving in leadership positions in AAAI together (Tom was President from 2001 to 2003, when I served as President-Elect, and my term as President started as he stepped down and became Past President). Tom was also a major leader and intellectual influence in our DARPA PAL (Perceptive Assistant that Learns) program, on both the highly-successful CALO and RADAR projects. Tom has been a worldwide thought leader in machine learning for many years, and his leadership in creating the Machine Learning Department and running it since its inception has been spectacular. We’ve been brainstorming this new collaboration together for many months, and we are both incredibly excited to get it off the ground.