Uber Just Promoted This Machine Learning Expert to Its Chief Scientist Role

Mar 16, 2017

Three months ago, Zoubin Ghahramani was a machine learning researcher at an under-the-radar startup. On Tuesday, Uber appointed him as its new chief scientist overseeing its Uber A.I. Labs, its new research arm dedicated to A.I. and machine learning.

Here's what happened in the interim: In December 2016, Uber continued its aggressive push into artificial intelligence by acquiring A.I. startup Geometric Intelligence for an undisclosed amount. (It had bought Otto, an autonomous truck and transportation startup, for $680 million back in August.) Ghahramani, a renowned machine learning researcher, was part of the 15-person Geometric Intelligence team absorbed in the acquisition.

As part of the deal, Geometric CEO and founder Gary Marcus, a neural science professor at New York University and leading figure in A.I., became director of the A.I. Labs team at Uber based in San Francisco. But in a Facebook post last week, Marcus announced he was stepping down from the job and moving back to New York. A number of executives have recently left the tech company amid a firm-wide investigation regarding sexual harassment allegations. Uber did not immediately return Fortune's request for comment on the nature of Marcus's departure.

In Marcus’s place, Uber has appointed Ghahramani to oversee Uber’s A.I. Labs initiative and lead machine learning strategy across the company.

Related: Uber Just Bought a Startup You've Never Heard Of. Here's Why That's Important.

Ghahramani is certainly well-suited for the job. A professor of information engineering at the University of Cambridge, he's published more than 250 academic papers and in 2014 received a $750,000 Google Award for an artificial intelligence project.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning are absolutely central to Uber’s mission,” he said in an Uber blog post on Tuesday. “We have to navigate around the real world, develop perception and action systems for our self-driving cars, and understand, predict, and make more efficient the experience for our riders and drivers.”

With a $70 billion valuation, Uber is reinventing itself into a tech giant and leader in the A.I. field. In February, the company also hired Mark Moore, a NASA engineer, to work on its flying car initiative.

These are important (and symbolic) hires for Uber as the company tries to prove it’s no longer just a ride-sharing platform.

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