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Inside the UW Computer Science & Engineering Department. (GeekWire File Photo.)

A new $1 million endowed professorship, made possible by Apple’s acquisition of Seattle-based machine learning startup Turi last year, will give the University of Washington Computer Science & Engineering department a chance to attract more top talent in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Exclusive: Apple expanding its Seattle engineering center, making a big bet on artificial intelligence

The UW is announcing the new “Guestrin Endowed Professorship in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning” this morning. The endowment is named after Carlos Guestrin, the machine learning specialist and UW computer science professor who founded Turi and is now director of machine learning at Apple.

“The professorship is going to make it possible to lure another really outstanding person in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and these are just critically important fields,” said computer science professor Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in the UW computer science department.

Carlos Guestrin

The announcement comes as Apple talks publicly for the first time about its plans to significantly expand its Seattle engineering operations in machine learning and artificial intelligence. In an interview at Apple’s downtown Seattle engineering office, Guestrin said it was important to him and the Turi team to support the University of Washington’s computer science and engineering program, allotting the funding as part of the acquisition process.

“It’s another way to foster the university’s development,” Guestrin said. “At Apple, we’re really excited to collaborate with the UW, and leverage the great talent pool and energy around the city.”

Lazowska pointed to Guestrin’s original arrival at the UW as an example of the power of endowed professorships and community partnerships.

Amazon originally funded two $1 million professorships to bring Guestrin to Seattle from Carnegie Mellon University, along with his wife, computer scientist Emily Fox, a noted machine learning specialist who was at the University of Pennsylvania. After getting a note from Lazowska at the time, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos committed the funding from Amazon and personally met with Guestrin and Fox to make the pitch for them to come to Seattle.

In much the same way, the new Guestrin Professorship will help the UW bring in another machine learning or artificial intelligence standout, Lazowska said. In addition, he said, a $1 million professorship can provide about $40,000 in annual research funding — “enough, for example, to support a graduate student to take a flyer on some crazy direction that just might be game-changing if it pans out.”

Lazowska also noted the important role of Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group as an investor in Turi, which was one of two successful exits this past summer with roots in the UW Computer Science and Engineering Department. The other, the initial public offering of RFID company Impinj, was also a successful outcome for Madrona.

Separately, the University of Washington is building a second computer science building to expand its capacity, with support from companies including Microsoft, Google Zillow and Amazon. Last year, CSE became the leading “first-choice” major among confirmed incoming UW freshmen, surpassing the longtime leading preferred major, Business Administration. UW says it currently has to turn away two out of every three qualified student applicants in the CSE department.

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