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7 Leaders Shaping the AI Revolution

In all the talk about new tech trends in Silicon Valley, there has been little to match the excitement over artificial intelligence (AI). Tech journalists and venture investors hyperventilate when predicting all the things computers and robots may be capable of doing, while economists scratch their heads and attempt to forecast what jobs and functions — now done by humans — may be taken over by AI bots, and how it will affect the economy, both positively and negatively.  

The desire to understand what role artificial intelligence will play in our world is not limited to these two groups, however.  Among the public at large, interest in AI has grown by more than 1000 percent in the last five years. According to Google Trends, only 5 percent of the U.S. population searched for information about artificial intelligence in 2012, but in 2017 that figure jumped to around 60 percent.

But what is AI, exactly, and what will it be capable of? More importantly, who is going to lead the effort to figure it out? To answer those questions, we identified seven of the world’s leading authorities on AI, and we offer profiles of them below.

John Giannandrea

John Giannandrea is the head of search at Google and was named one of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential People in Tech in 2017. Giannandrea joined the technology giant in 2010, after Google bought his startup Metaweb Technologies, which had created a community-curated database and semantic data storage infrastructure for the web. His appointment as head of search in 2016 was considered by some to be a sign of Google’s increasing emphasis on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Giannandrea had previously worked at some of Silicon Valley’s most iconic companies. From 1994 to 1999, he was chief technologist at Netscape, the company that created the first web browser.  He also worked as CTO of TellMe Networks, a pioneering voice recognition telephone service that was acquired (and ultimately divested) by Microsoft in 2007.

Greg Brockman

Greg Brockman is co-founder and CTO at OpenAI, a non-profit artificial intelligence research company that counts Elon Musk and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, among other Silicon Valley luminaries, as co-founders. OpenAI’s mission is to build safe artificial general intelligence (AGI) and ensure that its benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible. The organization presents at top machine learning conferences, releases open-source software tools for accelerating AI research, and publishes blog posts to disseminate its research. At OpenAI, Brockman’s work includes recruiting, organizational vision and strategy, and helping the company’s 60 researchers and engineers.

Prior to working at OpenAI, Brockman served as CTO of Stripe, the payment technology company that is now valued at $9 billion and poised to go public. He is also a startup investor, with more than 10 investments  in companies that include Kite, msg.ai, and Graphcore. Brockman studied computer science at Harvard and MIT.

Andrew Ng

Andrew Ng is among the foremost thinkers about artificial intelligence. He founded and led the “Google Brain” project, which developed massive-scale deep learning algorithms. The project led to the famous “Google Cat” result, in which Google’s system learned how to recognize objects such as cats simply by watching YouTube videos. From 2014 to 2017, Ng served as the chief scientist at Baidu, China’s largest search engine company, with a market valuation of close to $80 billion. Ng led Baidu’s AI Group, where he was responsible for many dozens of AI projects supporting Baidu’s businesses, including search, advertising, maps, take-out delivery, voice search, security, consumer finance, and others.

Ng also co-founded Coursera, the online education company that has raised more than $200 million venture capital funding. He sits on the board of directors for Drive.ai, a leading Silicon Valley AI startup that plans to “build the brain of self-driving vehicles” by creating hardware and software that applies deep learning throughout its driving system. Ng has an undergraduate degree in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, a master’s degree from MIT, and a PhD from UC Berkeley. For the last 15 years, he has also been an adjunct professor of computer science at Stanford.

Fei-Fei Li

Fei-Fei Li is an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University. She is currently the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and the Stanford Vision Lab, where she works with students and colleagues worldwide to build algorithms that enable computers and robots to see and think, as well as to conduct cognitive and neuroimaging experiments to discover how brains see and think.

Li is also in charge of artificial intelligence and machine learning research and development efforts at Google Cloud. She is the co-founder and chief of AI4ALL, a national nonprofit with a mission to educate the next generation of AI technologists, thinkers, and leaders. Li has published more than 150 scientific papers in top-tier journals. She built ImageNet, a 15 million-image dataset that contributed to recent developments in deep learning. Li received her PhD degree from California Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Physics from Princeton.

Yann LeCun

As director of AI at Facebook, Yann LeCun is a widely recognized thought leader and scholar on AI, machine learning, computer perception, mobile robotics, and computational neuroscience. He is the founding director of the NYU Center for Data Science and is the Silver Professor of Data Science, Computer Science, Neural Science, and Electrical Engineering at New York University.

LeCun began working on deep learning methods in the late 1980s. While at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, he developed the character recognition technology that was used to read 10 to 20 percent of all checks in the U.S. in the early 2000s. His image compression technology, called DjVu, is used by hundreds of websites and publishers and millions of users to access scanned documents on the Web.

In addition to leading AI at Facebook and his work at NYU, LeCun is also the co-founder and chief scientist of MuseAmi, a startup that creates software that uses machine learning and digital signal processing to detect, analyze, and categorize optical and audio inputs. He is a co-founder and advisor of Element, Inc., a New York-based startup that develops software-based biometric authentication technology.

Kirk Borne

Kirk Borne is principal data scientist at Booz Allen, the management consulting firm, where he applies the power of big data and machine learning to drive change and innovation in the federal sector, commercial industries, and nonprofit organizations. He is also an astrophysicist and space scientist. Since 2005, Borne has served as vice president at ARIES Scientific, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of science research and STEM education. Since 2009, he has been an executive member at the Astroinformatics and Astrostatistics international organizations. From 2003 to 2015, Borne was a professor of astrophysics and computational science at George Mason University, where he conducted extensive research in data science, computational astrophysics, data mining, informatics, and scientific databases.

Robbie Allen

Robbie Allen, founder, executive chairman, and former CEO of Automated Insights, is a pioneer in using artificial intelligence to transform the human writing process. He invented Wordsmith, the world’s first public natural language generation template engine, which allows users to produce millions of personalized reports, articles, and narratives in the time it takes to write just one.

With two engineering master’s degrees from MIT, Allen started his career as a software engineer at IBM. He subsequently worked as a distinguished engineer (the company’s top technical position) at Cisco, where he started writing code to automate the writing process. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He continues to serve as executive chairman at Automated Insights, where he drives the company’s strategic vision, oversees engineering and research, and helps ensure that the company continues to be named “best place to work” in the Raleigh-Durham area, an honor it has received for three years in a row.