Toronto professor wins Gerhard Herzberg award

University of Toronto professor, Geoffrey Hinton, has won the 2010 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), for his work in artificial intelligence.

“Our (Canadian) government is committed to developing, attracting and retaining the world’s best researchers here in Canada,” said Tony Clement, the federal minister of industry, in a press release. “We are proud to support NSERC as we honour our country’s top scientists and engineers, and highlight the many ways in which their work is improving the lives of Canadians and people around the world.”

Along with the medal, Hinton was awarded a $1-million grant to further his research in artificial intelligence over the next five years.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” Hinton said.

Since his teenage years, Hinton was always interested in the functions of the brain.

“When I was in high school, I was just very interested in how the brain worked,” Hinton said.

The goal of his research is to recognize how the brain does things and replicate those processes with the use of computers. In previous years, artificial intelligence was focussed on logic, while today it’s about understanding how the brain works and getting computers to work in the same fashion, according to Hinton. He taught computers to be able to recognize the edge of photos and even features of a face in a picture. He also trained computers to recognize parts or speech such as verbs and pronouns. His work in machine learning and artificial technology contributed to the sciences, engineering, social sciences and medicine fields. Computers are capable of detecting complicated patterns in medical, scientific and economic data because of Hinton’s research, according to a report by NSERC.

His research helped improve industrial plant safety, voice recognition technology and read bank cheques. Hinton’s research also contributed to cognitive psychology and neuroscience through his theories of how the brain creates its internal images through sensory input from the eyes, according to NSERC.

Hinton currently teaches an undergraduate in addition to graduate courses. He spends most of his time working with grad students.

Google Inc. interviewed Hinton discussing the next generation of neural networks.

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