Top 10 Most Influential People in AI

Published on
16/02/2024 11:41 AM
Top AI leaders

Artificial intelligence (AI) is emerging as one of the most important technologies of our time. From critical breakthroughs in deep learning models in the early 2010s to the rise of generative AI with the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the tech is shaping the future of society as we know it and paving the way for innovations once thought to belong in the realm of science fiction. 

Microsoft has invested over $11 billion into OpenAI as it hones in on integrating the technology into Microsoft products and services, while Google is moving vast amounts of resources towards AI departments, issuing “code-red” in a bid to defend its long-standing dominion on the search market and launching Bard, then Gemini to enter the race.

According to Fortune, big tech will invest over $50 billion into AI development in 2023 alone. And by 2025, it is predicted that the technology will permeate every aspect of our daily lives. 

While the shift into an AI-wired society appears to be approaching swiftly, the development of AI technologies has not happened overnight. 

Instead, it has taken decades of research, experimentation, and innovation to get to where we are today. And, at the heart of this progress are the AI leaders who have dedicated their lives to advancing the field.

Top AI Leaders

In this list, we’ve compiled ten of the top AI leaders in history, spotlighting how their achievements and innovations have paved the way for the AI revolution.

Kate Crawford 

Kate Crawford is a renowned scholar and researcher who stands as a leading figure in the field of AI thanks to her renowned research on its social and ethical implications. Crawford's research focuses on the social, political, and environmental impacts of AI, and she has authored influential books like "Atlas of AI" and "Tech's Bias Problem," highlighting the potential biases and inequalities embedded in AI systems. Crawford also co-founded the AI Now Institute, a research institute dedicated to investigating the social and ethical implications of AI, and has advised policymakers worldwide on AI policy, including the United Nations, the White House, and the European Parliament, shaping the conversation around responsible AI development.

Crawford is one of the most influential figures in the AI space to bring attention to the dangers of AI in her research. In her research, SHE has emphasized the need for greater transparency in the data and algorithms used to train AI systems, as well as the need for accountability mechanisms to ensure that AI systems are used for the greater good. Her work has helped to shape debates about the regulation of AI systems and has influenced the development of ethical guidelines and standards for AI, including the EU’s AI Act. She holds research positions at the University of Southern California and Microsoft Research, actively contributing to academic research and discourse on AI.

Dr Fei-Fei Li

Dr Fei-Fei Li is a leader in AI that has made critical contributions to the development of machine learning (ML), computer vision, and natural language processing.  Dr Li co-founded and led the ImageNet project, a massive dataset of labelled images that revolutionized deep learning research in computer vision. This project became a cornerstone for significant advancements in image recognition and a range of other AI applications. Her research has focused on developing algorithms that can identify objects and scenes in images and videos with a high degree of accuracy, even in complex and dynamic environments. Her work has been foundational to the development of modern computer vision and has had a huge impact on the field of AI.

Dr Li has also been a strong advocate for AI democratization. In 2017, she co-founded AI4ALL, a nonprofit that aims to increase diversity and inclusion in AI education and research. Through AI4ALL, Dr Li has worked to create a more diverse and inclusive AI community and to ensure that AI is developed and used responsibly and ethically. She currently serves as the co-director of both the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and the Stanford Vision and Learning Lab. These prestigious institutions actively foster research and development in AI with a focus on human-centric approaches. Dr. Li's commitment to education extends beyond research, too. She has authored publications and actively shares her insights through talks, inspiring future generations of AI researchers and learners. 

Ian Goodfellow

Ian Goodfellow is a leading figure in the field of AI who has played a critical role in advancing of deep learning and generative adversarial networks (GANs). Goodfellow's development of GANs has been instrumental in enabling AI systems to generate realistic images, videos, and other types of data, with applications ranging from video game development to medical imaging Goodfellow has also been a strong advocate for the democratization of AI, and for making the benefits of AI accessible to everyone. He has been a vocal advocate for open-source software and data and has worked to create tools and resources that make it easier for researchers and developers to build and deploy AI systems. His work has helped to create a more open and accessible AI community and has contributed to the development of more innovative and effective AI systems. 

In addition to his research and advocacy work, Goodfellow has also been involved in policy and industry initiatives related to AI. He has worked with industry leaders to develop ethical and responsible AI practices and has served as an advisor to government agencies on issues related to AI and national security. His work has helped to shape public policy and industry practices related to AI and has contributed to the development of more responsible and ethical approaches to AI development and deployment.

Kai-Fu Lee

Kai-Fu Lee is another leader in the AI space who has played a critical role in advancing the development and deployment of AI technologies in China and globally. One of Lee's most significant contributions to the AI industry is his work on speech recognition and natural language processing. He was a key member of the team that developed the first continuous speech recognition system for the Mandarin language, which was a breakthrough in the field of natural language processing at the time. His work on speech recognition and natural language processing has also been critical to the development of intelligent virtual assistants, chatbots, and other AI systems that rely on human-computer interaction.

Lee has also been a strong advocate for the development and deployment of AI technologies in China and globally. He founded Sinovation Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in AI startups, and has worked to promote the development of AI technologies in China and other countries. He has also been a vocal advocate for the ethical and responsible deployment of AI technologies and has called for greater transparency and oversight in the development and deployment of AI systems. Lee has also been involved in policy and industry initiatives related to AI. He has served as an advisor to the Chinese government on issues related to AI and has worked with industry leaders to develop ethical and responsible AI practices. His work has helped to shape public policy and industry practices related to AI and has contributed to the development of more responsible and ethical approaches to AI development and deployment.

Dr Andrew Ng 

Dr Andrew Ng is a world-renowned computer scientist and entrepreneur leading the charge in the ethical advancement of AI systems. Ng has authored or co-authored over 200 research papers in machine learning, robotics, and related fields. He co-founded and led Google Brain, a research team dedicated to developing deep learning algorithms, and spearheaded the growth of Baidu's AI group into a massive team. Ng is a passionate advocate for making AI accessible to everyone. He co-founded Coursera, a leading online learning platform, and his own platform DeepLearning.AI, to offer free and open-source courses that have educated millions worldwide. Ng also founded Landing AI, a company developing AI-powered SaaS products, and launched the AI Fund to invest in promising AI startups and encourage innovation in the field. 

 

Ng's influence extends beyond technical achievements. He was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in 2013, Fast Company's Most Creative People in 2014, and Time 100 Most Influential People in AI in  2023. He has also worked closely with industry leaders to develop ethical and responsible AI practices and has served as an advisor to government agencies on issues related to AI and national security. His work has helped to shape public policy and industry practices related to AI and has contributed to the development of more responsible and ethical approaches to AI development and deployment. His diverse achievements across research, education, and industry solidify his position as a leader in the AI space.

Mustafa Suleyman

Mustafa Suleyman is a British entrepreneur and computer scientist who has earned his place among the prominent voices shaping the field of AI.  He is best known as the co-founder of DeepMind, an AI research lab that has developed groundbreaking AI systems and algorithms that push boundaries in reinforcement learning and general intelligence. Suleyman co-founded DeepMind in 2010 along with Demis Hassabis and Shane Legg, and the company quickly gained recognition for its innovative work in the field of deep learning, particularly in the areas of image and speech recognition.  As Head of Applied AI at Deepmind, Suleyman oversaw teams that deployed cutting-edge AI systems in various Google products and external sectors, demonstrating the real-world value of AI research.

After leaving DeepMind, Suleyman led Google's AI product development and policy direction, shaping how AI was integrated into products and ensuring ethical considerations. In 2022, he then co-founded Inflection AI, a company focusing on "natural language interfaces" and generative AI, aiming to improve human-computer interaction. Suleyman actively shares his insights through talks, publications, and participation in influential organizations like The Economist's board. He advocates for responsible AI development and its potential to benefit society.

Yoshua Bengio

The first of the three “AI godfathers” on this list, Yoshua Bengio is a Canadian computer scientist and a leading figure in AI, particularly in the field of deep learning. Bengio is credited with being one of the "fathers of deep learning," having made fundamental contributions to the development of neural networks and learning algorithms. His work on restricted Boltzmann machines, deep belief networks, and convolutional neural networks has been instrumental in the progress of deep learning and the development of many of the most popular AI systems used today. He has authored and co-authored numerous influential research papers and books, shaping the discourse and direction of deep learning research. He also actively mentors and guides the next generation of AI researchers

Bengio actively advocates for responsible AI development and emphasizes the importance of addressing ethical concerns surrounding AI, and co-founded Mila, the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, a world-renowned research institute dedicated to advancing deep learning research and fostering collaboration. In 2018, Bengio received the prestigious Turing Award, considered the "Nobel Prize" of computing, alongside Yann LeCun and Geoffrey Hinton, for their breakthroughs in deep learning.

Sam Altman 

Sam Altman is the co-founder of the buzzy AI research and deployment group OpenAI and has become known as one of the leading voices in the field of generative AI.  Propelled into a beacon of the AI revolution since the release of ChatGPT last November, Altman’s contribution to the development of generative AI has proved instrumental in shaping the next phase of AI innovation. The generative AI chatbot set off a big tech frenzy, leading major tech players including Google and Meta move huge amounts of resources into the development and advancement of AI. It has also led huge tech companies, such as Microsoft and Tesla to invest heavily in OpenAI’s research and development of AI, accelerating the advancement and global adoption of AI technologies. 

 

But Altman’s role in spurring on the AI revolution expands far beyond the creation of ChatGPT. As the former president of Y Combinator, a startup accelerator that has helped launch companies such as Airbnb, Dropbox, and Reddit, Altman has been at the forefront of many groundbreaking AI projects and has been an influential figure in the tech industry for over a decade. Altman has been a key investor in several AI startups, including DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2015 for a reported $500 million. Altman has also been an advocate for ethical AI development and has been vocal about the potential risks associated with AI. In a 2018 interview with MIT Technology Review, Altman spoke about the importance of creating AI systems that are transparent, explainable, and accountable. He has also been a proponent of using AI to solve some of the world's most pressing problems, such as climate change and healthcare.

Yann LeCun 

Yann LeCun is an “AI godfather” known for his significant contributions to the development of deep learning – a subfield of machine learning that uses neural networks to analyse and process complex data. His work has been instrumental in advancing the AI revolution, making it possible for machines to learn and process information in ways that were previously thought impossible. One of LeCun's most notable contributions to AI is the development of convolutional neural networks (CNNs), which are used extensively in image and speech recognition. In the 1990s, LeCun pioneered the use of CNNs for image recognition, leading to breakthroughs in the field and making it possible for computers to recognize and classify images with a high degree of accuracy. This work was foundational to the development of modern computer vision and has been applied in a wide range of applications, from self-driving cars to medical imaging.

In 2018, LeCun shared the prestigious Turing Award with Bengio and Hinton for their breakthrough contributions to deep learning. He currently holds the position of Chief AI Scientist at Meta, leading a large team and shaping the direction of AI research and development within the company. LeCun has also authored or co-authored numerous influential research papers and actively mentors the next generation of AI researchers, sharing his knowledge and expertise., and has established the Computational and Biological Learning Lab at New York University, a research group actively exploring frontiers in AI and machine learning.

Geoffrey Hinton

Geoffrey Hinton is a British-Canadian computer scientist and AI researcher widely considered to be a leading figure in the history of AI development. Known as one of the three “godfathers of AI”, Hinton is considered one of the fathers of deep learning and has crucial contributions to the development of artificial neural networks and learning algorithms. He co-authored a landmark paper with David Rumelhart and Ronald Williams on the concept of backpropagation – a way of training artificial neural networks hailed as "the missing mathematical piece" needed to supercharge machine learning. This concept has played a key role in developing algorithms that can learn to recognise patterns and relationships in large data sets, paving the way for convolutional neural networks and deep belief networks that are now widely used in image recognition, natural language processing, and other AI applications

Hinton has also been a strong advocate for the ethical and responsible use of AI. He has been vocal about the need for transparency and accountability in AI development and has called for increased focus on developing AI systems that are aligned with human values and priorities. In 2023, he resigned from his senior position at Google to warn the world about the dangers of AI and has been vocal about protecting the world from the risks of the technology. Hinton has also been involved in numerous initiatives related to the use of AI for social good and has worked with organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations to develop AI systems that can be used to address humanitarian issues, such as disaster response and healthcare access. Through his research and mentorship Hinton fosters collaboration and knowledge sharing within the AI community, making him one of the most influential people in AI today.