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13 key influencers within the world of AI

  • February 13, 2024

Artificial intelligence continues to shake the world of tech and beyond. But who are the leading influencers and experts you need to know in the field?

Generative AI and machine learning in general continues to gain momentum, garner interest and gain heavy investment from across the tech industry.

But the reality is that while advanced generative AI tools like ChatGPT have exploded into mainstream, the technology behind large language models is far from new and there have been countless technologists, academics, engineers and leaders working on and with this tech, playing a pivotal role in the industry.

You will be familiar with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, who pumped $1bn into ChatGPT creator OpenAI back in 2019. Equally, Elon Musk sought to take on OpenAI with xAI, which included a ‘rebellious’ AI chatbot named Grok. And Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) has spoken out against those raising AI concerns and argued that the technology will “save the world”. A16z has invested heavily in AI start-ups, from drug delivery companies to image generators.

But while there is no doubt that these men have influence in the tech world and are investing in AI, we wanted dig deeper to highlight the men and women who are working a little more with the tech itself or the ethics and relations around it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the countless AI researchers, engineers and pioneers that have helped shape the industry but merely a small selection of some of the AI influencers worth knowing.

Mira Murati

As CEO of OpenAI – the company behind generative AI darling ChatGPT – Sam Altman has been a feature of many an AI influencer list. But while his mark on the industry will no doubt be remembered for being the face of the company, its chief technology officer Mira Murati is worth knowing.

With a background in engineering Murati has worked in both the aerospace and automotive industry as well is with VR and AR. Before OpenAI, she worked at Tesla she worked as a senior product manager in the development of the company’s Model X. She even became interim CEO of OpenAI when Altman was unceremoniously ousted for a brief time last year.

Dr Andrew Ng

A regular entry to lists of AI leaders, Andrew Ng is a co-founder of deep learning AI research team Google Brain and former head of data and AI at Chinese tech giant Baidu before stepping away from the company in 2017. That same year, he founded DeepLearning.AI, an education platform designed to fill a gap in AI education.

Ng is widely recognised for both his work machine learning and education. Prior to DeepLearning.AI, Ng co-founded online education company Coursera. There, he runs DeepLearning.AI courses in order to expand education about the technology to those both in and outside the industry – the most recent of which being ‘Generative AI for Everyone’, launched in November 2023.

Dr Fei-Fei Li

Another trailblazer in the AI world, Dr Fei-Fei Li is a leading figure in the computer vision and machine learning space. She is a professor at the computer science department at Stanford University and has served as director of the university’s AI Lab.

Li worked as chief scientist at Google Cloud, until she relinquished her role in 2018 to return to Stanford University full-time. She is currently the co-director of the Stanford Human-Centered AI (HAI) Institute, which aims to advance AI research, education, policy and practice to benefit humanity by bringing together interdisciplinary scholarship across the university. Her book, “The Worlds I See: Curiosity, Exploration and Discovery at the Dawn of AI”, was published in November 2023.

Dr Geoffrey Hinton

Widely known as ‘the godfather of AI’, Geoffrey Hinton is an important pioneering figure in the field. He has led research groups on deep learning and neural networks, having a substantial impact in the industry and paving the way for products such as ChatGPT.

He was a recipient of the 2018 Turing Award, often referred to as the ‘Nobel prize for computing’, for his work in deep learning and had worked with Google for more than a decade before quitting in 2023 so that he could speak freely about the risk that surround AI technology. “It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things,” Hinton told The New York Times at the time.

Prof Virginia Dignum

Virginia Dignum is a professor in responsible artificial intelligence and the director of the AI Policy Lab at Umeå University in Sweden. She also leads the Social and Ethical Artificial Intelligence research group and her writing considers responsible AI and the use of human-centred artificial intelligence.

Dignum also holds several significant AI appointments including to the European Commission high-level expert group in AI, the World Economic Forum Global AI Council, and most recently, as a member of the UN AI advisory body. In these roles, Dignum helps provide strategies at a European and global level for ethical guidelines around the use of AI.

Prof Yoshua Bengio

A prominent AI researcher, Yoshua Bengio is known for his work in deep learning and his advancements in AI have significant implications in medical imaging and diagnostics. He shared the Turing Award in 2018 with fellow AI pioneers, Hinton and Yann LeCun, for his contributions to the field.

Bengio is a full professor at the University of Montreal and founder and scientific director at Mila, Quebec’s AI institute. He also co-directs the ‘Learning in Machines and Brains’ programme at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. In 2023, Bengio voiced concerns about the direction and the speed at which AI technology was developing.

Dr Nazneen Rajani

Another member of the UN’s advisory board on AI, Nazneen Rajani has worked as a research scientist across several major tech companies, including IBM, Qualcomm and Salesforce. More recently, she was a robustness research lead at machine learning platform Hugging Face.

Rajani is recognised as an expert and thought leader in ensuring the robustness and evaluation of large language models. She obtained her doctorate in computer science from the University of Texas, with a focus on natural language processing and the interpretability of machine learning models.

Demis Hassabis

Neuroscientist Demis Hassabis is the co-founder and CEO of DeepMind, a leading AI research lab acquired by Google. In April 2023, the tech giant announced it was merging DeepMind and Google Brain to create a new AI research unit with Hassabis at the helm to help “create the next generation of AI breakthroughs”.

Hassabis known for his work in reinforcement learning and artificial general intelligence and, since its acquisition, his company DeepMind has been at the forefront of several AI achievements, including solving the 50-year-old challenge of protein folding and the creation of AlphaGo, which won the Marvin Minsky Medal in 2017.

Dr Abeba Birhane

Dr Abeba Birhane is a cognitive scientist wears many hats when it comes to her contributions to the AI industry. She is a senior adviser in AI accountability at the Mozilla Foundation, an adjunct assistant professor at the School of Computer Science and Statistics in Trinity College Dublin and she is another member of the UN’s advisory body for AI governance.

Birhane rose to fame in 2020 when she helped uncover racist and misogynistic terms in an MIT image library that was used to train AI. In 2023, she was also named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people in AI.

Prof Yann LeCun

While Mark Zuckerberg is often cited as an important leader in emerging tech such as AI, Yann LeCun is an important member of the company when it comes to AI, working as chief AI scientist for Facebook AI Research (FAIR), having joined the company more than a decade ago.

LeCun is also a professor at New York University on a part-time basis and has made important contributions to deep learning, sharing the 2018 Turing Award with fellow entries Hinton and Bengio. He is also a member of the US National Academy of Engineering, the recipient of the 2014 IEEE Neural Network Pioneer Award and the 2015 IEEE Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence Distinguished Researcher Award.

Dr Timnit Gebru

Dr Timnit Gebru is a formidable figure in the AI industry. She is a computer scientist who works in the fields of AI, algorithmic bias and data mining as well as an advocate for diversity in technology and co-founder of Black in AI.

Gebru is the former co-lead of Google’s ethical AI team until 2020, when she said she was fired for criticising its diversity efforts in an email to colleagues. In 2021, she launched the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research institute (DAIR), an “independent, community-rooted institute set to counter Big Tech’s pervasive influence on the research, development and deployment of AI”.

Stuart Russell

A professor at UC Berkeley and a leading authority on artificial intelligence, Prof Stuart Russell is knowns for his work on AI safety and is the author of ‘Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach’. His research covers a wide range of topics in AI, including machine learning, knowledge representation, real-time decision making, computer vision, computational physiology, and philosophical foundations.

Russell has also been named as one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in AI and his current concerns include the threat of autonomous weapons and the long-term future of artificial intelligence and its relation to humanity.

Kate Crawford

Kate Crawford is a leading researcher, academic and author whose 20-year career has focused on large-scale data systems, AI and machine learning and its impacts on society as a whole. She is a research professor at USC Annenberg, a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research New York, and an honorary professor at the University of Sydney.

In 2021, she received the Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellowship at the University of Melbourne. She is also co-founder and co-director of the AI Now Research Institute, an interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to studying the social impacts of AI and has advised policy makers in the UN, the US Federal Trade Commission and the European Parliament.

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