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Google reportedly acquires startup Undecidable Labs, CEO now works on image search

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.


Google last month acquired a small startup called Undecidable Labs, according to a new report. Now cofounder and chief executive Cathy Edwards is head of product and engineering for Google’s image search tool, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Before getting acquired, Undecidable Labs was developing technology that was “focused on turning online searches into purchases,” Bloomberg reported today, citing an unnamed source. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

The report comes two months after Pinterest said that it had hired Google’s image search chief, Li Fan, as its new head of engineering.

While image search has been a part of Google for 15 years, it’s increasingly a hot area, given the rise of a type of artificial intelligence called deep learning. That approach involves training artificial neural networks on lots of data, such as photos that are typically labeled for what they are, and then getting them to make educated guesses about new data. This method has become less expensive as computing power and available data sets grow.

Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft, Pinterest, and Twitter, among others, are involved in it, and Google has been incorporating it into more and more of its services, such as Google Photos and Google Translate. Companies must compete to pick up talent in this field.

While Undecidable Labs does not appear to have deep bench in the area of deep learning, the acquisition does imply that Google wants to explore the idea of using smart image search as a starting point at e-commerce — perhaps because simply retrieving relevant images in response to a written or spoken query has become table stakes — and that sort of change would require a different mindset.

Before starting Undecidable Labs, Edwards was director of engineering at Apple, where she worked on the App Store, the Apple TV, iBooks, iTunes, iTunes U, and Apple Maps, her LinkedIn page says.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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