Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a staple of science fiction for decades, but in recent years it started making its mark on industry. AI is still viewed as an exotic, cutting-edge technology shrouded in mystery and mystique, but in reality, it’s coming to a computer near you, and you may already be using some rudimentary AI functionality in your everyday routine on services you take for granted.
Once you start to demystify Artificial Intelligence, you’re bound to realise that Skynet and Terminators don’t have much in common with commercial AI technology. AI has countless potential applications and most of them are quite benign. Nowadays, you can create a chatbot with basic AI functionality free of charge, in mere minutes. On the other side of the spectrum, AI is starting to make its mark on a number of industries, including finance, healthcare, scientific research, autonomous vehicle research, energy and heavy industry, and many more.
Please bear in mind that this list is not a ranking of the most influential AI thinkers out there. These experts tend to tackle different aspects of AI, so the impact of their efforts is hard to compare. On top of that, AI is an emerging technology, and it’s evolving at a fast pace.
Nick Bostrom, born on March 10, 1973, is known for his research about the risks of developing artificial superintelligence and strategies on how to do so responsibly. Nick was born at Helsingborg, Sweden, and as a teenager, he did not like going to school. He finished his last year of high school learning from home, and educated himself in a wide variety of disciplines.
Bostrom holds a BA in philosophy, mathematics, logic, and artificial intelligence from the University of Gothenburg, and master’s degrees in philosophy and physics, and computational neuroscience. He was awarded a PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics in 2000, and published four books and numerous articles.
In 2005 Bostrom founded the Future of Humanity Institute, tasked with researching the future of mankind. He joined Stephen Hawking, Max Tegmark, Elon Musk and others in signing the Future of Life Institute’s open letter warning about the potential dangers of AI in January 2015.
Nick Bostrom is also very active as a consultant and advisor for many governments and organizations.
Demis Hassabis is a British AI programmer, entrepreneur, neuroscientist, and computer game designer. Born on July 27, 1976, in North London, Hassabis was a child prodigy in chess, reaching master standard at the age of 13. After completing his A-Level and S-Level exams at Christ’s College in North London at the age of 16, Hassabis started working at Bullfrog Productions as a computer game designer and programmer. In 1994, he left Bullfrog and earned his BA in Computer Science at the Queen’s College, Cambridge in 1997.
After his degree, Hassabis worked shortly at the Lionhead Studios as lead AI programmer on the Black ∧ White game, and in 1998 founded his own company — Elixir Studios in London, an independent games developer. Elixir Studios signed publishing deals with Microsoft and Vivendi Universal, and grew to 60 people. After releasing a few games, Elixir Studios was closed in 2015 and the technology rights were sold to various publishers.
Hassabis returned to his academic career, and earned a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at the University College London in 2009, and pursued postdoctoral work at MIT and Harvard.
In 2010, Hassabis co-founded DeepMind Technologies, a machine learning AI startup. DeepMind’s mission is defined as — to solve intelligence, and then use intelligence to solve everything else. Google purchased DeepMind in 2014, and the company went on to announce a number of significant achievements. DeepMind created AplhaGo — a program that defeated the world champion Lee Sedol at the complex game of Go in March 2016.
Geoffrey E Hinton
Geoffrey E Hinton born December 6, 1947 in Wimbledon, London, is a cognitive psychologist and computer scientist, renown for his work in machine learning, neural networks, AI, cognitive science and object recognition.
Interestingly, Hinton is the great-great-grandson both of logician George Boole, whose work eventually became one of the foundations of modern computer science, and of surgeon and author James Hinton.
Hinton graduated from King’s College, Cambridge in 1970 with a BA in experimental psychology. He received his PhD in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Edinburgh in 1978. After five years as a faculty member at Carnegie-Mellon he became a fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and moved to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto where he is now an emeritus distinguished professor. Since 2013 Hinton became a distinguished researcher at Google, after his company DNNresearch Inc was acquired.
Dag Kittlaus is a Norwegian AI entrepreneur, born in 1967. Kittlaus is well known as the person in charge of the teams that developed Siri and Viv. Kittlaus received his BA in economics in 1989 at Indiana University, Bloomington, and his MBA in strategy and marketing in 1994 at the BI Norwegian Business School.
He worked at Motorola Mobility as a general manager until 2007, and went on to create a startup called Siri later that year, where he was the co-founder and CEO. Translated from Norwegian, “Siri” means “beautiful victorious counselor,” and it was the first true automated personal assistant for mobile devices. After a phone call from Steve Jobs, Apple acquired Siri in 2010 and Kittlaus started working at Apple as a director at iPhone Apps. After 18 months at Apple, Kittlaus quit his job and created a new startup — Viv. The company was acquired by Samsung on October 5th, 2016 and Viv is expected to launch on the Samsung Galaxy S8, the company’s flagship smartphone. Viv is Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant.
Recently, during a routine executive medical exam, Kittlaus was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer, ironically the exact same rare cancer that afflicted Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Kittlaus has undergone successful surgery, and one of the nurses who helped him recover was named Siri. After recuperating, Kittlaus is back at work at Samsung, running Viv.
Raymond “Ray” Kurzweil
Raymond “Ray” Kurzweil, born February 12, 1948, is one of the best regarded authorities on AI. Kurzweil is a legendary American computer scientist, inventor, author and futurist. He grew up in the New York borough of Queens, and showed an interest in technology at a young age.
In 1968, during his sophomore year at MIT, Kurzweil started a company that used a complex computer program to match high school students with colleges. He took all of the computer programming courses offered at MIT at that time, and sold his company for $100,000. Kurzweil obtained his BS in computer science and literature at MIT in 1970.
His later business ventures include Kurzweil Computer Products that created the first omni-font OCR system, Kurzweil Music Systems, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, and Kurzweil Educational Systems. Kurzweil has also written seven books, and five of them have been national bestsellers.
Kurzweil has received 21 honorary doctorates and honors from three US presidents. He has been described as a “restless genius” and “the ultimate thinking machine” by The Wall Street Journal and Forbes.
Yann LeCun is a computer scientist with interests in the fields of machine learning, mobile robotics, and computer vision. Born in 1960 near Paris, France, LeCun received a Diplome d’Ingenieur from the Ecole Superieure d’Ingenieur en Electrotechnique et Electronique (ESIEE), Paris in 1983, and a PhD in Computer Science from Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in 1987.
In 1988, after a postdoc in Toronto, LeCun started working at the Adaptive Systems Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey, where he developed a biologically inspired model of image recognition called Convolutional Neural Networks, and applied it to OCR. He moved to AT&T Labs-Research in 1996 as head of the Image Processing Department, and worked on the DjVu image compression technology. In 2003, LeCun joined the New York University as a Silver Professor of computer science neural science. He became the founding director of the NYU Center for Data Science, and since December 2013, he is the Director of AI Research at Facebook.
Andrew Ng born in 1976 is a Chinese American computer scientist and AI researcher. Ng was born in the UK, to parents who immigrated from Hong Kong. As a result, he spent a lot of time in Hong Kong and Singapore, and graduated from Raffles Institution in Singapore in 1992. In 1997 he earned his undergraduate degree in computer science at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and in 1998 he received his master’s degree from MIT. After finishing his PhD in 2002 from the University of California, Berkeley, he started working at Stanford University.
Some of Ng’s early projects include the Stanford Autonomous Helicopter project and the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Robot (STAIR), that resulted in the creation of the Robot Operating System (ROS), a popular open source robotics platform. In 2008, he started the Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE) program, placing a number of Stanford courses online, for free. One of these courses, Machine Learning, was taught by Ng. In 2011, he led the development of Stanford University’s main Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) platform. His work in online education led to the creation of Coursera in 2012, with Ng as the co-founder and co-chairman. In 2014, he announced that he will be stepping away from his daily responsibilities at Coursera, and joined Chinese internet giant Baidu as its VP and chief scientist in charge of deep learning.
Stuart J Russell
Stuart J Russell is a computer scientist who wrote the modern handbook on AI development. Russell was born in 1962 in Portsmouth, England. In 1982, he received his BA with first class honours in physics from Wadham College, Oxford. Russell received his PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1986 for his research on inductive and analogical reasoning.
Russell is currently a professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, where he founded the Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence.
Stuart J Russell and Peter Norvig authored Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, a book used by over 1,300 universities in 116 countries. It’s widely considered an industry-standard resource in the AI field.
Jurgen Schmidhuber born January 17, 1963 in Munich, Germany, is a computer scientist specializing in the field of AI, neural networks, and self-improving AI. Schmidhuber did his undergraduate studies at Technische Universitat Munchen in Munich, Germany from 1983 to 1987, and earned his PhD in 1991 from the same university. He also taught there from 2004 until 2009 as head of the cognitive robotics lab, when he became a professor of artificial intelligence at the Universita della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland.
In 1997 Schmidhuber and Sepp Hochreiter published a paper discussing a type of recurrent neural network they called long short-term memory (LSTM). This publication was used in 2015 in a new implementation of Google’s speech recognition software for smartphones.
Schmidhuber founded a company called Nnaisense in 2014, with the goal of working on commercial applications of AI in finance and self driving cars.
Richard Sutton is an American computer scientist, born in Ohio, and grew up in Oak Brook, Illinois. His research focuses on learning problems facing a decision-maker interacting with its environment.
Sutton received his BA degree in psychology from Stanford University in 1978, and the MS and PhD degrees in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts in 1980 and 1984. Since 2003 he is a professor and iCORE Chair in the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta, where he leads the Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (RLAI).
Sutton is considered as one of the founding fathers of modern computational reinforcement learning, with several contributions to the field, like temporal difference learning and policy gradient methods.
AI Is Everywhere
Artificial Intelligence is one of the most romantic fields in science because of its association with books and movies. But as you see with the work of these top people, while the work might be somewhat more banal, it touches our lives, and improves them, in many ways.
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