AI Innovators: How Everyday Individuals Are Leveraging the Power of AI

Access to Artificial Intelligence has long been guarded by two of the most exclusive and unyielding conditions in modern society: extensive education at elite universities, and a wealth of funds to support these technologies. As intriguing as AI is to curious minds, tinkering with these programs have always felt just out of reach. That is—until today.

Access to Artificial Intelligence has long been guarded by two of the most exclusive and unyielding conditions in modern society: extensive education at elite universities, and a wealth of funds to support these technologies. As intriguing as AI is to curious minds, tinkering with these programs have always felt just out of reach. That is—until today.

As costs decreased yearly and companies sought out more diverse talent, many have elected to release some of the resources at their disposal to the general public. Soon enough, YouTube tutorial videos and Stack Overflow troubleshooting guides hit the world wide web. And while some might say that it isn’t as good as a four-year degree or a mentor with decades of experience, the fact of the matter is that the field is leveling.

From there, garage programmers and curious kids did the rest. With scraps to work with and armed with nothing more than human ingenuity and imagination, innovators are coming up with AI solutions to address everyday concerns. And while these problems might not be at the forefront of cutting-edge Silicon Valley research, it’s work that’s managed to land these AI innovators careers, if not shine a spot on the Sunday Times. Check out these four notable AI hobbyists:

 

Robbie Barrat

As a typical high school student, Barrat had many hobbies including art, music, and coding. When he was younger he often took apart scrapped computers and put them back together again which meant that he had a fair understanding of how computers worked. In addition, Barrat also had a high school education in computer science and his own tinkering under his belt, but nothing more.

Like many kids his age, Barrat got into an argument with a friend about the idea of computer creativity. He believed computers could in fact be creative and work on artistic projects, just like humans. He went pretty far to prove his stance, and his own ingenuity is what set him apart.

Barrat got into AI and trained a neural net using Kanye West rap lyrics. It was a success, and it wasn’t just his classmates he impressed. While he didn’t have the grades to get an acceptance letter to a prestigious school, his project did end up landing him a job in Silicon Valley. Now, he works with Stanford University.

 

Moksh Nirvaan

The newest addition to this ever growing list of young innovators, high school student Nirvaan stepped up when the COVID-19 pandemic took over the United States.

An AI hobbyist, Nirvaan saw the potential in AI to speed up diagnostic procedures and help doctors better handle their increased workload.

Working with a team of doctors, Nirvaan compiled their information and developed an AI that could read patient x-rays faster than humans. This program, named COVID Scan AI, scans through x-rays and detects whether or not patients are suffering from COVID-19 within a 95% accuracy.

This project has already placed him in the running for a Facebook competition, but he’s nevertheless awaiting further clinical testing to see if it will be ready for use in clinics and hospitals.

With the shortage of tests posing a problem in many parts of the world, Nirvaan’s program has the potential to save many lives. When asked, the 16-year-old said that he hopes to pursue a career in AI and continue his education.

 

Will Roscoe

Roscoe was a small time, self-taught programmer. But he had great ideas for what AI would one day be capable of, and so he ran for a seat on the Bay Area Subway system. His goal was to implement self-driving electric buses, however voters failed to see his vision.

With his own knowledge, he poured his time into Google’s opensource software, TensorFlow. In a small protest to his defeat, he developed his own self-driving RC car. It wasn’t perfect though, he deemed it a ‘Donkey Car’ for its stubborn tendencies.

However, it was impressive enough to catch a few eyes at a local RC hackers meetup. There he partnered with Adam Conway, and together they went on to finish his designs. Today, hobbyists all over the world play with Roscoe’s RC car designs, further adapting them to do things like clean up litter.

 

Melissa Mulholland

Mulholland was a Microsoft consultant who helped partners connect with new technologies. While she didn’t interact directly with these technologies, she had a good understanding of what they were and how they worked.

While pregnant, Mulholland discovered her son had a deadly kidney condition, Posterior Urethral Valves (PUV). Luckily, she had excellent doctors who identified it on an ultrasound early enough to save him.

Shortly after the birth of her son, Melissa was working with Microsoft’s new AI API, a program that allowed users to train computers to spot particular images. It was here that she recognized the potential in leveraging the program to augment what doctors needed to do. From there, she banded together with Tim Huckaby, a former member of Microsoft’s product team and within hours they had fleshed out a program that could detect PUV with 80% certainty; and with some fine tuning they got this up to 99%.

Her story is a perfect example of what happens when technology meets everyday people. The technology and potential were already present to begin with, but it took someone to apply it right where it was needed most.

 

The Future of AI Developers

If these stories of amateur programmers and backyard computer scientists can tell us anything, it's that AI really is for everybody. While the technology might be clouded in jargon and a few other barriers, it is possible for anyone to develop productive AI given access to the right tools. The possibilities of it’s application become endless and we’re only seeing the start of how feasible this technology can become as it advances.

Innovators like Barrat, Nirvaan, Roscoe and Mulholland are often awarded for their efforts with lucrative careers. But what’s more important is that they show how people like them can engage with tools that fulfill our natural human curiosity and passions.

As we look towards the future, we believe that there will come a time when AI won’t be confined simply to laboratories. And here at Divergence, we’re all about supporting you on your path to an in-demand career in emerging tech.

For more information on how you can get involved on the front lines, take a look at our course catalog.

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