If you want to build artificial intelligence into every product, you better retrain your army of coders. Check.
“The tagline is, Do you want to be a machine learning ninja?” says Christine Robson, a product manager for Google’s internal machine learning efforts, who helps administer the program. “So we invite folks from around Google to come and spend six months embedded with the machine learning team, sitting right next to a mentor, working on machine learning for six months, doing some project, getting it launched and learning a lot.”
For Holgate, who came to Google almost four years ago after with a degree in computer science and math, it’s a chance to master the hottest paradigm of the software world: using learning algorithms (“learners”) and tons of data to “teach” software to accomplish its tasks. For many years, machine learning was considered a specialty, limited to an elite few. That era is over, as recent results indicate that machine learning, powered by “neural nets” that emulate the way a biological brain operates, is the true path towards imbuing computers with the powers of humans, and in some cases, super humans. Google is committed to expanding that elite within its walls, with the hope of making it the norm. For engineers like Holgate, the ninja program is a chance to leap to the forefront of the effort, learning from the best of the best. “These people are building ridiculous models and have PhD’s,” she says, unable to mask the awe in her voice. She’s even gotten over the fact that she is actually in a program that calls its students “ninjas.” “At first, I cringed, but I learned to accept it,” she says.