Larry Heck Appointed as Georgia Tech’s Rhesa “Ray” S. Farmer Chair and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar
Pioneer in AI-driven speech and language processing returns to alma mater after longtime career in industry
Larry Heck, Professor, Rhesa “Ray” S. Farmer Chair and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, join the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Larry Heck will join the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) on August 15 as a Professor, Rhesa “Ray” S. Farmer Chair and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar. Having earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Georgia Tech, Heck returns to his alma mater after nearly 30 years in industry, most recently serving as the President and CEO of Viv Labs and Senior Vice President of Samsung Electronics.
Since 2013, Heck has served on the ECE advisory board and currently chairs the board. When he arrives at Georgia Tech this summer, he will collaborate with researchers across myriad disciplines, including the Georgia Tech Research Institute.
“Georgia Tech is delighted to have Larry Heck return to campus in a role that will impact various fields in an entirely new way,” said Raheem Beyah, dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering and Southern Company Chair. “His graduate and doctoral study here became the foundation of a storied career in artificial intelligence, speech and language processing, online algorithms and other areas. He will now advance those fields by expanding his exploration and by preparing the next generation of leaders.”
“I’ve been fortunate to have seen the evolution of Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering over the years and am thrilled to be joining the school in this new capacity,” Heck said. “ECE and the College of Engineering have profound strengths in academics and research. I look forward to building on ECE’s success in a fast-changing field of engineering, as well as participating in the larger innovation and startup ecosystem in Atlanta and Georgia.”
Heck’s influence on shaping speech and language technologies is widely felt, particularly with AI virtual assistants. He founded the Cortana™ virtual assistant at Microsoft, led Samsung’s virtual assistant Bixby™ in North America, served as a technical advisor to Yap Inc. (acquired by Amazon to initiate the Alexa™ virtual assistant), and founded Google’s Deep Dialogue group, a research effort behind the Google Assistant™.
“Recruiting engineers and scientists of Larry’s caliber to Georgia is how we continue to elevate our state’s profile as a leading center of university research and entrepreneurship,” said GRA President Susan Shows. “Larry has been a true trailblazer in deep learning technology for speech processing and in several other areas. He will be an outstanding addition to the Academy of GRA Eminent Scholars, who are major drivers of research funding to Georgia’s universities.”
In 1992, Heck began his career at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in acoustics research and later in speech with the Speech Technology and Research (STAR) Laboratory. He founded the SRI Speaker Recognition Group in the STAR Lab, where he created speaker verification/voice biometric technology that he eventually transferred and developed into the award-winning Nuance Verifier™ product. While at SRI, Heck worked with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and MIT Lincoln Labs to establish the NIST Speaker Recognition Evaluations (SRE), an international competition to encourage fundamental research and foster collaboration among speaker recognition researchers. The NIST SRE has been held every year over the past 25 years and has had a profound influence on the field.
Heck joined Nuance Communications in 1998, eventually serving as its Vice President for R&D where he led the research, advanced development, and deployment of its engines for speech recognition, voice-biometrics, spoken natural language processing, and text-to-speech. In 1999, he led one of the world’s earliest deployments of a major industrial application of deep learning with the Home Shopping Network. The Nuance speech recognition engine Nuance Recognizer™ was recognized with numerous awards, including being named as the industry’s most accurate speech recognition engine for telephony in 2004. In that same year, he was named among the “Top 10 Leaders in Speech Industry” at SpeechTek ’04.
In 2005, Heck moved to Yahoo!, where he served as its Vice President for Search and Advertising Sciences. His highly multidisciplinary team was responsible for the scientific development, analysis, and deployment of the Yahoo! web search, search monetization, content match advertising, and display advertising products. He was the co-founder of Yahoo! Labs and was the co-creator and program chair for the first Yahoo! Tech Pulse Conference, a company-wide internal technical conference.
Heck joined Microsoft in 2009, eventually becoming its Chief Scientist of Speech Products and Distinguished Engineer where he founded the Cortana™ AI virtual assistant. He joined Google Research in 2014 to continue his work on AI virtual assistant technology. Since 2017, he has been with Samsung Electronics where he created 3 world-class AI research centers (Silicon Valley, Toronto and Montreal), served as the President and CEO of Viv Labs, and led the company’s North America product teams around the AI virtual assistant Bixby.
Currently, Heck remains active on Advisory boards for several conversational AI startups, including Symbl.ai, XdMind and Otter.ai.
Adding to his impressive list of industry leadership positions, Heck has over 125 journal and conference publications and over 50 patents in the areas of AI and speech recognition. Heck is an IEEE Fellow “for leadership in application of machine learning to spoken and text language processing.” In 2017, he received the Academy of Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award from Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering and the Texas Tech University Whitacre College of Engineering Distinguished Engineer Award.
Heck received his master of science degree in electrical engineering and Ph.D. from Georgia Tech in 1989 and 1991, respectively, and his bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University.
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