Bending Spoons
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Bending Spoons

AI: Shaping the future

Chances are, you’ve heard people say, “AI is the future.” And the chances are particularly high if you’ve ever met Federico Perazzi — a fully signed-up artificial intelligence fanatic. It’s the subject Federico’s most passionate about, the subject he’s devoting a giant chunk of his career to. Indeed, it’s the subject that brought him back to his home country after a decade away. And it’s the subject that brought him to Bending Spoons… a company he’d never heard of just a few short months ago.

In this article, Federico discusses what his AI team does at Bending Spoons, and why he swapped one of the most famous companies in the world to join one that flies under the radar. But first, he’d better introduce himself…

By Federico Perazzi, Head of AI

Hi, I’m Federico, Head of AI at Bending Spoons

After a thoroughly average undergraduate career, I got a lucky Willy Wonka golden ticket aged 26. That’s when I was accepted onto a Master’s program in Entertainment Technology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh — which is where things changed pretty dramatically. I gravitated into the CMU Graphics lab, falling in love with the joy (and pain) of research. I graduated, then headed straight for ETH, Switzerland, where I got another Master’s — this time in Computer Science — while interning at Disney Research. That adventure turned into a PhD, punctuated by a spell in LA where I co-designed the stitching algorithm used to create the movies in a popular Disney parks ride called Soarin’ Around the World.

After several years at Disney, I landed a wonderful job in San Francisco at Adobe, working on research for products such as Photoshop. Then, staying in the Bay Area, I hopped over to Facebook for a couple of years to work on AR/VR (including the Facebook Ray-Ban glasses that were recently announced), before a message landed in my inbox that put me on a different path. A path that took me back home to Italy.

Federico Perazzi, Head of AI at Bending Spoons

The adventure that started with a ping

The notification grabbed my attention, but it was the content of the recruiter’s message that held it. A fast-growing tech company based in Milan was seeking an AI specialist to lead its ambitious team. In truth, I wasn’t looking for a new opportunity, but a quick call couldn’t hurt…

Having lived abroad for most of my adult life, my finger wasn’t exactly on the pulse of Italy’s tech exploits. But the more I learned about the company, the more I liked this scaleup with a goofy name. I was amazed to discover what Bending Spoons had accomplished, both in terms of technology and its work culture. Like a Silicon Valley company, but on my home turf. My call with the recruiter led to a second one — this time with Luca Ferrari and Matteo Danieli, two of the co-founders. We chatted for a couple of hours, and what impressed me the most was their vision for the company’s future. While they’d already accomplished something seemingly impossible in Italy, they still wanted to grow more. Exponentially, in fact.

The four biggest factors that impressed me

So, I guess an article about joining Bending Spoons wouldn’t be complete without explaining what convinced me to accept their offer. After all, I was happy in San Francisco, and wasn’t looking to make a move.

Ultimately, though, there were four factors that sealed the deal. Here they are:

  1. The opportunity of building a team from the ground up. My team would manage the whole stack, from research to deployment, and provide AI on demand, as a service to the full suite of Bending Spoons apps.
  2. The impact that my work could have, and the speed of deployment. For scale, our neural networks are currently processing north of 10 million images per day, and we’re only just getting started.
  3. The vision of the founders. They blew me away. I felt incredibly aligned with their objectives, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get on board.
  4. And last but not least, career growth. A new challenge, with new responsibilities to match. Exciting!

Artificial intelligence… please explain it like I’m five

Artificial Intelligence is the theoretical idea of creating machines that can replicate human skills and behavior. Machine learning, which is what we focus on at Bending Spoons, is a set of data-driven algorithms that learn to execute tasks typically solved by humans. Although these days they also do some super-human things! Tasks include natural language processing, speech recognition, and computer vision. We use AI to power some of our most exciting technologies, such as Remini’s Enhance feature.

Alright, maybe a five-year-old couldn’t understand that explanation, but that’s the best I can do!

How AI fits into the future of Bending Spoons

At Bending Spoons, our sights are set on becoming one of the biggest AI centers in Italy and beyond. A modern machine learning organization with a cutting-edge infrastructure that informs the work of our research scientists, publishes papers and present them at top-tier conferences, and processes millions of images every day without creating friction for our customers.

Spoiler alert: Current AI projects

At any given moment, we’ve got approximately ten million images on the go. Here’s a little flavor of some current priorities, though these change by the day (or minute, or second…):

  • Implementing an MLOps infrastructure to deploy models at scale, with minimal friction from research to product
  • Optimizing neural networks to reduce inference time, by performing knowledge distillation between a deep teacher network and a shallow student
  • Exploring new generative models to advance image enhancement, like diffusion probabilistic models and normalizing flows
  • Setting up a framework to acquire large-scale datasets
  • Plus another 9,999,996 things…

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns…

Building an AI team is no small task, and brings more than its fair share of headaches.

First, it’s extremely challenging to define the difficulty of an objective. Timelines are imprecise (to put it mildly!), outcomes are unpredictable, and most experiments fail after a few weeks.

Second, it’s an absurdly competitive field that demands constant updates and improvements, while staying up-to-the-minute with all the latest developments. And developments are happening by the bucketload!

Third, talent sourcing is tough. Our team is growing exponentially, meaning we’re targeting more than twenty people by the end of 2022. The skills required are scarce on the market, so talented professionals are a hot commodity. Simply, there’s a whole lot more demand than supply.

Finally, research and engineering are related, but also extremely different. It’s not always the easiest to help people from different professional backgrounds, goals, and norms to gel quickly and work smoothly.

But these challenges, I must admit, bring a lot more satisfaction than sleepless nights. I love them!

To sum up…

Life in the AI team at Bending Spoons is going fantastically overall! The company culture, the vision, and Spooners themselves. I joined Bending Spoons a few months ago, but it feels like I’ve been here years already because I’ve learned so much and made such rich connections with people. Plus, my team is amazing: They built a state-of-the-art infrastructure that gives us access to GPUs on the cloud with minimal friction from the ground up. And they did it in a month. Also, they’re already developing new AI features. I’m proud of them and proud to be part of this team.

Finally, a word of advice for any youngster who’s interested in the field of AI

There’s so much going on in this field, both inside and outside of the big academic institutions. A youngster with a passion for AI can learn a huge amount just by making use of free online resources — there are tons available. And then there are also applied courses to test those booksmarts.

And I’d be missing an open goal if I didn’t plug Bending Spoons right now. After all, what’s better than a real experience in an incredibly exciting company? Check out all our opportunities, from internships to senior roles, on our website.

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