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Nine innovators who are unlocking the potential of AI

Putting the spotlight on the people driving progress in AI

AI is a bustling field with no end of captivating research and exciting projects underway. Behind every one of those initiatives are people — the innovators driving progress and advancing critical discussions about AI and its future. In this article, we profile nine such people, in alphabetical order, ranging from in-the-weeds researchers and AI practitioners to the founders of companies helping deliver on the promise of AI.

Dr. Joy Buolamwini

Founder, Algorithmic Justice League

AI-powered facial recognition systems are used in many settings, including areas that have major consequence on peoples’ lives such as law enforcement, border control and hiring. If not properly trained, AI models can reinforce systemic biases that disadvantage women and people of color — a danger that’s all too clear to Joy Buolamwini. A leading researcher on algorithmic bias in facial analysis technology, Buolamwini has uncovered numerous tools that perform worse on female faces and struggle to detect dark-skinned faces.

Based on her experiences, Buolamwini founded the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL) and has just published a new book, Unmasking AI. AJL members advance the movement for equitable and accountable AI through research, policy guidance, media advocacy and awareness-raising art. Their work includes the award-winning documentary Coded Bias, which highlights the real harms that biased AI can cause.

Dr Joy Buolamwini

Charlotte Deane

Chief AI Officer, Exscientia

It takes 10 to 15 years to develop a new pharmaceutical drug — far too long for patients with debilitating or life-threatening conditions. But that process can be greatly accelerated using generative AI and machine learning, an area Charlotte Deane is advancing in her role as Chief AI Officer at Exscientia. A world-renowned expert in structural bioinformatics and Professor at Oxford University, Deane is helping revolutionize drug discovery with AI-led strategies that can process vast amounts of data to precision-design new drug candidates.

The kind of work Deane and Exscientia are leading has already produced eight clinical candidates, four of which are in active clinical development with two more currently being evaluated. The UK-based company also uses AI to match cancer patients with effective existing treatments, utilizing live tissue samples to rapidly test dozens of options to determine which is likely to work best for a specific individual.

Charlotte Deane

Ian Foster

Division Director, Data Science and Learning, Argonne National Laboratory

Scientific discoveries are typically years in the making. Ian Foster and his team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are aiming to bring down that rate to mere days. By combining robotic systems with AI and machine learning, self-driving labs can automate and accelerate research processes, allowing human researchers to focus on more complex work. In time, machines may be able to not only handle precise and repetitive tasks but also conduct literature reviews, propose new research topics and even carry out follow-up studies on their own.

Rather than training AI systems to handle distinct tasks, Foster and his team at Argonne National Laboratory are aiming to create autonomous systems that can support multiple areas of research. This includes exploring how large language models like ChatGPT can help researchers ask the right questions and craft stronger hypotheses.

 Ian Foster

Tom Graham

Co-founder, Metaphysic

You may already be familiar with Tom Graham’s work at Metaphysic with co-founder Chris Umé. Videos of one of Metaphysic’s creations, a highly convincing deepfake of actor Tom Cruise, have millions of views on platforms like TikTok and YouTube. It’s an engaging demonstration of the company’s technology, Metaphysic Live, which uses generative AI to create photorealistic videos. The same tech is now being used in movies to transform seasoned actors into younger versions of themselves.

But Metaphysic Live isn’t Graham’s only preoccupation. Having seen where this technology is going, he’s also a vocal advocate for individuals owning the copyright of their AI-generated counterparts. In 2023, Graham became the first person to copyright their own AI likeness.


Rana el Kaliouby

Deputy CEO, Smart Eye

There’s more to communication than just the words we say. Facial expressions, body language and tone of voice also matter. Yet these critical cues are lost on the technology we interact with. Rana el Kaliouby is on a mission to change this — to “humanize technology before it dehumanizes us.” She is a pioneer of Emotion AI, a subset of AI that uses deep learning, computer vision, speech science and big data to enable machines to recognize human emotions based on subtle expressions and vocal tones.

As Deputy CEO of Smart Eye, el Kaliouby is applying Emotion AI to automotive interior sensing solutions traditionally used to detect distracted or drowsy drivers. Infused with emotional intelligence, these solutions will be able detect emotional shifts and then adjust music, lighting, temperature and more to improve the experience for everyone in the vehicle.

Rana el Kaliouby

Nicolas Kourtellis, Ph.D.

Co-Director, Telefónica Research and Head of Systems AI Lab, Telefónica

With modern telecommunications networks as complex as they are, telcos need faster, more efficient ways to manage them. AI is increasingly seen as the answer, but the larger attack surface that comes with broader adoption of AI and the cloud could put subscriber data at greater risk of being compromised or stolen. Nicolas Kourtellis is working on a solution: privacy-preserving AI. This includes using techniques like federated learning (FL), which can enable AI models to be trained at the data source and operate without the need to collect and centrally process user data.

Kourtellis and his team at Telefónica Research are proponents of FL as a service (FLaaS), which would facilitate the development of new solutions based on the FL and generally distributed AI approach. With 6G promising to make telco networks even more complex, solutions like these will be critical to facilitating network management while ensuring privacy.

Nicolas Kourtellis

Anne Lee

Chief Technology Office Partner, Nokia Bell Labs

Like so many areas in tech, AI remains male-dominated despite the critical role women have played in technology and computing innovation dating back to the 1800s. That’s why role models like Anne Lee are so important in helping encourage more girls and women to pursue jobs in the field. Lee is a pioneering software engineer and Nokia’s 2020 Ada Lovelace Honoree, an award named after the woman recognized as the first computer programmer. Along with an illustrious career driving innovation in IP communications, Lee is working to advance AI and machine learning in telecommunications, which will be essential to enabling sophisticated 5G and 6G services.

She is currently leading the technology strategy for AI & Data in her company both top down and bottom up. And she is also passionate about AI ethics, including eliminating bias in algorithms and designing AI solutions responsibly from the start.

Anne Lee

David Luan

CEO and Co-founder, Adept

Generative AI models like ChatGPT can assist with a broad range of tasks, from drafting emails to writing code. David Luan and his team at Adept are taking the concept of an AI assistant even further by training a neural network to use software tools and APIs. The goal is to create an AI helper that can support knowledge workers with virtually every task, working side by side with them in the applications they use every day.

Luan and his colleagues are advancing a people-centric approach to AI that optimizes for what’s actually most useful for people and their work. They call this Useful General Intelligence, or UGI (in contrast to Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI). Investors appear to believe in Adept’s potential, dedicating $350 million in funding to the company.

David Luan

Cristóbal Valenzuela

CEO and Co-founder, Runway AI

Multimodal AI models impress with their ability to generate eye-catching pictures, videos, and content in seconds, based on just a few keywords or simple inputs. Cristóbal Valenzuela and the team at Runway have been working on this technology to create new opportunities in creative fields. The company offers a range of tools that can generate video using text, images or video clips. All these offerings serve Runway’s core mission: ensuring that the future of content creation is accessible, controllable and empowering for creatives. 

The AI-powered tools being put out by Runway could revolutionize filmmaking, making it possible to elaborate sequences in seconds that would have taken hours with traditional methods. Through its entertainment and production division, Runway Studios, the company is now partnering with creatives around the world to help them use AI to tell their stories through video.

Cristóbal Valenzuela