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Artificial-intelligence pioneers win $1 million Turing Award

To learn who’s taking home the Turing Award, people might turn to their trusted talking bots, like Siri or Alexa. Or, in fact, some of the very technology the three winners helped bring to life.

Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun have earned what’s often referred to as the Nobel Prize of the tech world for their pioneering work in artificial intelligence, the Association for Computing Machinery announced Wednesday. The researchers, working both independently and together, helped advance the thinking and application of neural networks, the technology that gives computers the ability to recognize patterns, interpret language and glean insights from complex data.

“Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” Cherri Pancake, president of the computing society, said in a statement. “The growth of and interest in AI is due, in no small part, to the recent advances in deep learning for which Bengio, Hinton and LeCun laid the foundation.”

The trio’s efforts to popularize algorithms that extract patterns in data was initially met with skepticism, the association noted, but their commitment to artificial-intelligence research has led to breakthroughs in many areas of computer science, including speech recognition, robotics and the ways in which machines interpret digital images and videos.

The process of recognizing languages, environments and objects that billions of smartphone users rely on stems from the work of Bengio, Hinton and LeCun. Their research is poised to fuel further advancements as entire industries embrace artificial-intelligence systems, potentially transforming transportation, medicine and commerce.

AI-powered technologies could unlock a future with autonomous cars or earlier and more accurate medical diagnoses.

However, the advancement of artificial intelligence has also prompted concerns over mass automation and the displacement of human workers.

LeCun is a mathematical sciences professor at New York University and the vice president and chief AI scientist at Facebook. Hinton is a vice president and engineering fellow at Google. Bengio is a professor at the University of Montreal and the scientific director of both Quebec’s Artificial Intelligence Institute and the Institute for Data Valorization.

The Turing Award comes with a $1 million prize, funded by Google, the ACM said. The prize is named after the British mathematician Alan Turing, who laid the theoretical foundations for computer science.