Two lead scientists at Google and Facebook and a computer scientist at Canada’s Montreal University, who gave conceptual and engineering breakthroughs that made deep learning – a technique that led to astonishing breakthroughs in computer vision, speech recognition, natural language processing, and robotics – possible have been awarded with $1 million ACM A.M. Turing Award for 2018, a statement said on Wednesday.

The award is jointly given to Yoshua Bengio, professor at the University of Montreal and scientific director of Mila Artificial Intelligence Institute at Quebec, Geoffrey Hinton, VP and Engineering Fellow at Google and Yann LeCun, VP and AI Chief Scientist at Facebook.

Working independently and together, Hinton, LeCun and Bengio developed conceptual foundations for the field, identified surprising phenomena through experiments, and contributed engineering advances that demonstrated the practical advantages of deep neural networks.

While the use of artificial neural networks as a tool to help computers recognise patterns and simulate human intelligence had been introduced in the 1980s, by the early 2000s, LeCun, Hinton and Bengio were among a small group who remained committed to this approach.

Though their efforts to rekindle the AI community’s interest in neural networks were initially met with scepticism, their ideas recently resulted in major technological advances, and their methodology is now the dominant paradigm in the field, the statement said.

The ACM A.M. Turing Award, instituted by the Association of Computing machinery, is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Computing,” and carries a $1 million prize, with financial support provided by Google, Inc. It is named for Alan M. Turing, the British mathematician who articulated the mathematical foundation and limits of computing.

The scientists will receive the award at ACM’s annual awards banquet on June 15 in San Francisco, California.

“Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said ACM President Cherri M. Pancake adding “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.”

These technologies are used by billions of people. Anyone who has a smartphone in their pocket can tangibly experience advances in natural language processing and computer vision that were not possible just 10 years ago. In addition to the products we use every day, new advances in deep learning have given scientists powerful new tools—in areas ranging from medicine, to astronomy, to materials science,” Pancake said.

"Deep neural networks are responsible for some of the greatest advances in modern computer science, helping make substantial progress on long-standing problems in computer vision, speech recognition, and natural language understanding,” said Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow and SVP, Google AI.

Besides being at Google, Hinton is chief scientific advser at Vector Research Institute and emeritus professor at the University of Toronto, while LeCun is a faculty at New York University.