This article is published in the April 2014 issue.

University-Industry Partnership to Advance Machine Learning

Yahoo Labs and Carnegie Mellon University announce five-year, $10 million partnership

Through an innovative new partnership, Yahoo Labs and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are working together to break new ground in the area of machine learning. This transformational research will bring academic and industry researchers together, with the goal of developing new technologies that meet common goals. The exciting new collaboration is called Project InMind. Academic researchers at CMU will be able to iterate on work directly with Yahoo software, testing on opt-in users from the CMU community and making use of Yahoo’s infrastructure, with the goals of increasing the pace of mobile and personalization research and creating a better user experience. The project will be overseen at Yahoo by Ron Brachman, chief scientist and head of Yahoo Labs, and at CMU by Tom Mitchell, head of the CMU Machine Learning Department and Justine Cassell, associate vice provost of technology strategy and impact.

CMU-Yahoo Labs

Initiating a university-industry partnership

While this specific partnership is with CMU, Yahoo Labs welcomes working with other universities as well. When universities and industry start to prepare a collaboration, the first step is to identify common goals, and then the institutions hold a series of meetings over time to nail down specifics. Yahoo partnered with CMU on this project because of mutual interest in advancing machine learning. Yahoo’s efforts in mobile technology and personalization and CMU’s leading academic department in machine learning proved to be a natural fit, and it is a mutually beneficial undertaking. Researchers will get unprecedented access to data and Yahoo will be able to better serve its users with a customized experience.


Yahoo frequently collaborates with university researchers on joint research interests in a number of faculty engagement programs, and they often result in papers at conferences and research that can be used to improve user experience. Part of the InMind project is the establishment of a Yahoo Fellowship program. Students and faculty at CMU working on this project will be funded by Yahoo over an extended period of time and will collaborate with Yahoo researchers.

Real data in real time

At the media announcement, Tom Mitchell described what makes the project groundbreaking. “This is really an unprecedented gift in the history of the Machine Learning Department and also in the HCI Institute…It’s also a game changer in terms of the style of research.”

Most university research studies are restricted by privacy issues, and don’t have access to large data sets. While Yahoo Labs has a data-sharing program, they anonymize the data sets to protect privacy. Unique to this particular partnership, Yahoo is providing a mobile toolkit to create a “living laboratory” on campus, where students and faculty can opt-in to test apps that researchers will create. This will allow the research team to quickly iterate in real time with the data from its opt-in users.

Click here to watch a video of the announcement.

Click here to read the announcement on the Yahoo Labs blog.