Google AI chief John Giannandrea steps down, as search and AI divisions get new heads

3rd Apr 2018
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AI is growing across sectors, and all the major players – from Google and Microsoft to Facebook and others – want a piece of the pie. As everyone is vying to leverage the technology and present the best they have to offer, companies are also looking to move things fast. In the midst of this, John Giannandrea, chief of Google’s AI and search units, has stepped down from his role. He has been with Google since 2010 and will continue to work with the company.

As first reported by The Information, the reshuffle shows the growing importance of AI at Google. The company confirmed the latest changes.

Image: Flickr

John’s role will be split into two – the search division, which will be managed by Ben Gomes, currently VP of search engineering, and the AI division, which will be run by Jeff Dean, a leader of the Google Brain project.

John took over from Amit Singhal in 2016, and that’s when AI and search were merged under John’s leadership. But Google is reverting back to the old format of having search and AI under separate heads.

TechCrunch spoke to a company spokesperson and reported that the company confirmed the changes, with John deciding to step down of his own accord. According to the spokesperson, the move would allow John more time to work on technology.

TechCrunch reports that John made limited public appearances and preferred a low profile.

In January, Facebook’s AI chief stepped down too. Yann LeCun, who founded Facebook’s AI research lab in 2013, moved to a new role in the company as Chief AI Scientist while Jerome Pesenti, former CEO of BenevolentTech, an AI startup, took over Facebook’s Applied Machine Learning Group.

AI continues to be one of the hottest technologies this year, and as companies vie to align their businesses around it, the focus on the people leaders and developers will be high. As AI gains more importance, more changes in team structures, reshuffles, etc. can likely be expected.

Update: In a coup, Apple announced that John Giannandrea is now going to be joining Apple. He will be leading Apple’s Machine Learning and AI strategy and reporting directly to the company’s CEO Tim Cook. The New York Times reported that in an email sent to staff members (a copy which the NY Times obtained), Tim Cook writes, “John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”

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