Tomi Poutanen: Geoffrey Hinton's Turing Award celebrates a life devoted to ground-breaking AI research

Back in 1996, I was preparing to enter my first year of graduate school at the University of Toronto. It was a different time in the technology world. The heady days of the dot-com boom, the smartphone revolution and the advent of social media were all still years away.

At the time, my interest lay in studying neural networks, a field of study within computer science that uses algorithms loosely modeled after the human brain to recognize patterns in huge sets of data to solve complex challenges. And there was only one man I wanted to learn from: Professor Geoffrey Hinton.

Even then, Professor Hinton was ahead of his time. Today he is a world-renowned deep learning scientist and one of the leading minds in the field of artificial intelligence research.

Not only is his work foundational in the fields of neural networks, machine learning and artificial intelligence, students who have studied under Professor Hinton are blazing new trails as the AI leads at some of the world's foremost technology companies.

As it turns out, I was warned repeatedly against pursuing this path and told it was a dead-end pursuit. In the end, I wound up doing my thesis on cryptocurrency, but I did have the honour of taking classes under Professor Hinton. And to this day I consider him to be a mentor and a friend.

Even back then he had full conviction in his particular approach to AI despite the disbelief of the broader research community. 

Earlier this week, Professor Hinton was one of two Canadians – the other being Yoshua Bengio of the University of Montreal – who were among three computer science researchers to be chosen as the co-winners of the prestigious Turing Award, the world's top prize in computer science. This is richly deserved.

The award, which was created in 1966 and is presented annually by the Association for Computing Machinery, is named for British mathematician Alan Turing, the celebrated Second World War code breaker who is considered one of the founding fathers of computer science.

For Professor Hinton, this award celebrates a lifetime of achievement as one of the greatest minds in artificial intelligence. I'm honoured to be able to continue working with Professor Hinton through the TD funding project for the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, where he is the Chief Scientific Advisor.  

Tomi Poutanen

Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer

TD Bank Group