Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

And for Google X’s Next Trick, It Will Identify Cat Videos

A neural network of 16,000 computers presented with stills from 10 million YouTube videos taught itself to recognize cats.

The Stanford-Google paper identifies these pictures as “the most responsive stimuli on the test set for the cat neuron.”

The seemingly trivial task is actually a huge achievement for machine learning, as John Markoff reports in the New York Times. The point is to train a face detection tool from unlabeled images.

Yup, cat video identification is the height of science!

The research project was designed and studied by a group including Andrew Ng of Stanford University and Jeff Dean of Google. It has now been moved out of Google X and into Google’s regular search and knowledge work.

The Stanford-Google system was 70 percent more accurate at recognizing object categories than previous efforts.

As a remarkable side note, Ng is on leave from Stanford to co-found and run the online learning start-up Coursera. Meanwhile, Sebastian Thrun — who has led Google X projects for self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses — was also until recently a Stanford professor until leaving to start the online learning start-up Udacity. Talk about interesting parallels.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik