Great Interview with Yann LeCun on Deep Learning

John Lilly
Feb 26, 2015 · 2 min read

Excellent and very accessible interview in Spectrum with Yann LeCun, head of Facebook’s AI lab (and with a long & distinguished career of contributions to artificial intelligence prior to that).

Starts with this:

IEEE Spectrum: We read about Deep Learning in the news a lot these days. What’s your least favorite definition of the term that you see in these stories?

Yann LeCun: My least favorite description is, “It works just like the brain.” I don’t like people saying this because, while Deep Learning gets an inspiration from biology, it’s very, very far from what the brain actually does. And describing it like the brain gives a bit of the aura of magic to it, which is dangerous. It leads to hype; people claim things that are not true. AI has gone through a number of AI winters because people claimed things they couldn’t deliver.

I have the same pet peeve — the truth is that we really, really just don’t know how the brain works at all.

Then this:

Spectrum: So if you were a reporter covering a Deep Learning announcement, and had just eight words to describe it, which is usually all a newspaper reporter might get, what would you say?

LeCun: I need to think about this. [Long pause.] I think it would be “machines that learn to represent the world.” That’s eight words. Perhaps another way to put it would be “end-to-end machine learning.” Wait, it’s only five words and I need to kind of unpack this. [Pause.] It’s the idea that every component, every stage in a learning machine can be trained.

Spectrum: Your editor is not going to like that.

LeCun: Yeah, the public wouldn’t understand what I meant. Oh, okay. Here’s another way. You could think of Deep Learning as the building of learning machines, say pattern recognition systems or whatever, by assembling lots of modules or elements that all train the same way. So there is a single principle to train everything. But again, that’s a lot more than eight words.

And he leaves us with this gem & great reminder:

Spectrum: You tell a funny story in a Web post about running into Murray Gell-Mann years ago, and having him correct you on the pronunciation of your last name. You seemed to be poking gentle fun at the idea of the distinguished-but-pompous senior scientist. Now that you’re becoming quite distinguished yourself, do you worry about turning out the same way?

LeCun: I try not to pull rank. It’s very important when you lead a lab like I do to let young people exercise their creativity. The creativity of old people is based on stuff they know, whereas the creativity of young people is based on stuff they don’t know. Which allows for a little wider exploration. You don’t want to stunt enthusiasm. Interacting with PhD students and young researchers is a very good remedy against hubris.

    John Lilly

    Written by

    Partner @ Greylock, former CEO @ Mozilla, dad, husband, son, nerd