Andrej Karpathy, who is joining from nonprofit research lab OpenAI, has done extensive work in trendy areas in AI such as reinforcement learning and generative adversarial networks (GANs). Before joining OpenAI, Karpathy worked at Alphabet, where he spent time at the DeepMind AI research group.
The move comes as Chris Lattner, Tesla's vice president of the Autopilot autonomous driving technology, departs. Tesla hired the Apple veteran earlier this year. Apple CEO Tim Cook last week confirmed to Bloomberg that the iPhone maker is indeed working on self-driving car technology.
"Turns out that Tesla isn't a good fit for me after all," Lattner wrote in a tweet.
Jim Keller replaces Lattner as head of Autopilot hardware and software, a Tesla spokeswoman told CNBC in an email.
Among other things, AI can be useful for image recognition for autonomous driving. Tesla has added the necessary hardware for its Autopilot autonomous driving technology to its fleet of vehicles.
Alphabet subsidiary Waymo is also working on self-driving cars, along with Ford, GM and Uber.
Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk is also a co-founder and chairman of OpenAI, which was established in late 2015. Karpathy will report directly to Musk and will work closely with Keller, the Tesla spokeswoman wrote.
Correction: This story has been revised to clarify Karpathy's AI research.