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Avast poaches top AI professor for CTO role

Czech security giant Avast has named Michal Pěchouček, a high-profile artificial intelligence professor, as its new chief technology officer.

Pěchouček joins Avast, the world’s biggest provider of antivirus software, from the Czech Technical University in Prague (CTU) where he will retain his professorship and continue to helm the university’s AI centre.

The academic has published a number of influential papers on AI and is currently in charge of the university’s computer science department. He will take up his new position at the start of September and be tasked with developing Avast’s research in AI and machine learning, as well as overseeing its Threat Labs team.

The move comes after Ondrej Vlcek took over as Avast’s chief executive in March, having served as its consumer president chief following several years as chief technology officer. “Michal’s experience in academia and industry, his ability to connect ideas, people, and resources from different fields, and his track record in leading successful teams make him the ideal fit for our CTO role,” said Vlcek in a statement.

“One of his core responsibilities will be to further our research in AI, machine learning, and cybersecurity. Michal will also be leading our core technology and R&D teams to support the work of our Threat Labs, and our big data and innovation teams. I am excited to have him and his colleagues join us, helping us to forge a stronger collaboration with academia in this fast moving field of applied research.”

Tech companies have poached a significant number of artificial intelligence experts from universities across Europe in recent years. The Telegraph revealed in September 2018 that a third of leading machine learning and AI specialists who had left top British universities had gone to work for US tech giants. A number of startups founded by academics have also recently been bought out by tech companies as part of so-called “aqui-hires”. Pěchouček sold his own firm, Cognitive Security, to Cisco in 2013.

Avast said that “three leading fellow AI scientists” will be joining Pěchouček’s team, but it is not clear if they have also been poached from CTU. An Avast spokesperson has not yet responded to a request for clarification.

Earlier this year, Pěchouček helped launch the Avast-funded CTU/Avast AI and Cybersecurity Laboratory. He previously spearheaded the creation of Avast’s chair of cyber security at CTU.

Discussing his appointment, Pěchouček said: “This paves a new way for industry and academia to work together on some of the biggest and most exciting research-based challenges of our time. Avast’s commitment to funding ongoing and new research in AI and machine learning enables CTU to demonstrate its expertise in these fields, helping attract and retain the best and brightest minds.”

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