Meet Timnit Gebru, a person who The Selfpreneur has awarded the rare title of “Alicorn in Artificial Intelligence.” Read on to learn why she’s earned such a coveted title.
Let’s start with the backstory: Most stories of technology innovators start with them getting on a plane. But it’s somewhat rare for the plane to originate from Ethiopia, a country known as the birthplace of man in the horn of Africa. That’s exactly where Gebru’s story began. As a teenager, she left her native country to move to the United States and began embarking on a journey that would lead her to achieve a Bachelors, Master’s and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. From there she earned a prestigious engineering job at Apple, then co-founded a startup. That should be enough right? Not for Gebru! She left Apple in the past, and now she is a Ph.D. Candidate at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. But there’s more.
Gebru’s work was featured this year by The Economist. They highlighted her research to use machine learning and deep learning to predict census data using millions of images from google street view.
“We used computer vision algorithms to detect and classify cars in 50 million Google Street View images. We then used the characteristics of these detected cars to predict race, education, income levels, voting patterns and income segregation levels. We were even able to see which city has the highest/lowest per capita CO2 footprint”
Using machine learning and deep learning to make predictions about people is powerful stuff. The ability to see demographic shifts in communities in real time through AI opens up incredible possibilities.
What’s further fascinating about Gebru is that she is a multiplier! She returned to Ethiopia to teach programming to young students with AddisCoder, a programming bootcamp. The students in this bootcamp were a diverse range, hailing from both rural areas and cities, with male and female gender balance, and accommodating people with disabilities. Some of these students have gone on to earn admission to Ivy League Universities. Thanks to work like this the next great innovation for our world very well may come from the minds Gebru has inspired and helped to mold.
Forbes has even featured Gebru’s work. She saw a problem after having the experience of often being the only woman in the room at AI conferences and being among a small group of people of African descent. She didn’t sit back on this knowledge as diversity is critical to innovation in general, but also essential to the development of AI which is known to inherit the bias of the people who develop it. Gebru took action to address the problem and co-founded a social community called Black in AI which is a thriving community of data scientists, and AI engineers of African descent and/or who identify as black. This community serves as a place for sharing ideas, fostering collaborations and discussing initiatives to increase the presence of black people in the field of Artificial Intelligence.
Check out what’s next for Gebru! In an interview with LDV Capital said her plans for the future are to continue her current research along with studying the societal effects of machine learning to understand how to create fair algorithms. “The way our current algorithms work, if they are fed with biased datasets, they will output biased conclusions,” Gebru said. Impressive stuff.
Gebru’s work and results are so impressive that it’s earned her the very first profile for People in AI due to her extraordinary research in AI and commitment to improving the world.