What began as a Duke research lab has transformed into one of the most recognized machine learning companies in the industry. Now, it’s coming back to Duke.

Co-founded by Lawrence Carin, James L. Meriam professor of electrical and computer engineering, Infinia ML is returning to Duke through a partnership with local start-ups and the Pratt School of Engineering. 

Members of the company have published 11 books and almost 600 papers on machine learning research, and the company also claimed the title of “Best Machine Learning Company” in the 2018 AI Breakthrough Awards.

"Machine learning is an evolving and important tool that's changing how businesses approach and solve problems," said Steve McClelland, Pratt '95 and the program's executive-in-residence, in a press release. "Understanding its strengths, limitations and opportunities helps entrepreneurs deliver unique solutions, value and services to customers. Duke students will benefit from access to Infinia ML's experience in applying these tools to solve real-world problems." 

The company was founded in 2017 and will begin the Pratt partnership in the 2018-2019 school year.

“Infinia ML is unlocking new solutions and opportunities at unprecedented speeds, helping companies make the most of machine learning in their business,” said James Johnson, managing director of AI Breakthrough, in a press release.

The partnership comes as Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship initiative continues to grow. Infinia ML will work alongside Steve McClelland—Pratt ’95 and the program’s executive-in-residence—to teach Duke entrepreneurs how to use machine learning in solving corporate problems. 

McClelland returned to Duke with the goal of creating a hub for innovation and entrepreneurial ventures. Part of achieving this goal included keeping up with technological advances and identifying possible relationships between larger companies and start-ups, according to an interview with the DukEngineer Magazine.

“There’s a lot of hype around ML right now, so it’s definitely cool to see Pratt going out and trying to meet demand,” said Pratt junior Josh France, a fellow in the 2018 Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurs program.

The move will benefit Infinia ML as well. In its goal to help transform Durham into a technology and innovation hub, the company is looking at surrounding universities—including Duke—for “top machine learning talent,” according to the company's website.

Infinia ML will also be conducting a lecture series for Pratt students to introduce them to the growing field of machine learning. The lectures will be given by leaders of Infinia ML, including CEO Robbie Allen and Executive Chairman Mike Salvino.

“I think it’s an interesting partnership and definitely an important topic to learn about since the world is only going to keep getting more technologically advanced,” Pratt first-year Amanda Stull said. “However, interpersonal communication and face to face interaction are also crucial to entrepreneurship and the startup culture.”

Stull acknowledged that, while advances like machine learning can be valuable, there is a fear that people will lose other vital skills like communication as more businesses switch to automation.

“Overall though, I think it’s great that Pratt is trying to get its students prepared for the future, which will undoubtedly involve machine learning in some aspect,” she said.