Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

The startup diversifying the AI workforce beyond just “techies”

At EmTech Digital, Rachel Thomas of Fast.ai showed how her online-education startup can bring more viewpoints into the world of AI.
March 27, 2018
Jeremy Portje

Rachel Thomas wants you to join the AI workforce, and she has a plan to make that happen.

On Tuesday at MIT Technology Review’s annual EmTech Digital conference in San Francisco, the cofounder of Fast.ai, a company that offers free classes on deep learning, argued that AI is not as inaccessible as it seems.

In an onstage presentation, Thomas discussed what are stereotypically considered prerequisites to working in AI, like a PhD, big data sets, and access to expensive computing power. She then gave examples of AI systems that defy those expectations, like a neural network one of her students created using a training technique that needed only 30 data points to work. She also pointed out the availability of a cloud-based GPU that cost just 45 cents an hour.

“The barriers to using AI are lower than you may think,” she said.

Diverse viewpoints are essential to creating AI that tackles problems outside the purview of Silicon Valley. Thomas recounted the example of a farmer signing up for Fast.ai’s class to develop an algorithm to better monitor the health of his goats’ udders.

“You know about problems no one else knows about,” she says.

Thomas believes that having more diversity within the AI world will also help with the problems of bias and fairness that currently bedevil the industry. She thinks that more diverse teams can prevent problems like the tendency of Google’s Photos app to label black people as “gorillas” and the implied racism uncovered by ProPublica in an algorithm being used for bail decisions in Florida.

“The field has a bit of exclusivity problem,” Thomas said. “The world really needs all of you involved in AI.”

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

AGI is just chatter for now concept
AGI is just chatter for now concept

The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it

Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.

AI and robotics concept
AI and robotics concept

AI’s progress isn’t the same as creating human intelligence in machines

Honorees from this year's 35 Innovators list are employing AI to find new molecules, fold proteins, and analyze massive amounts of medical data.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.