Who is Fei-Fei Li?

Fei-Fei Li is an American computer scientist who was born in China in 1976. Li is best known for her work on the ImageNet project and its large database that is used to research visual object recognition software

Education and early career

Li moved to the U.S. state of New Jersey at the age of 15 and soon earned herself a BA in Physics from Princeton University where she studied computer science and engineering. Li then received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Caltech University, California.

After a brief period as an assistant professor at both Princeton and the University of Illinois between 2005 and 2009, Li moved to Stanford University in 2014 where she lead over 20 faculty members and 100 students at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL).

Some of Li’s notable students over her time at Stanford include AI personalities such as David Stavens, Andrej Karpathy, and Olga Russakovsky. It was also at Stanford that she invented the aforementioned ImageNet large-scale dataset. 

Google

In January 2017, Li took a sabbatical from Stanford, joined Google, and became a VP and Chief Scientist of AI/ML. There, she was responsible for overseeing cloud-related AI research in addition to Google’s engineering efforts, university relations, and full suite of AI/ML products.

One of the main projects Li was involved in at Google Cloud was Project Maven. Also known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Function Team, Project Maven’s aim was, according to the Pentagon, to develop “computer-vision algorithms needed to help military and civilian analysts encumbered by the sheer volume of full-motion video data that DoD collects every day in support of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.

While passionate about computer vision and its applications, Li believed Google would suffer reputational harm if its products were associated with AI-powered weapons. Some 3,000 Google employees later signed a petition against the company’s involvement in technology that could enhance drone strikes in the theater of war.

Li stepped down as head of Google Cloud in September 2018 to return to Stanford. She now heads the university’s Human-Centered AI Institute (HAI) which focuses on AI research, education, and policy that benefits the human race.

AI4ALL

Building on her efforts at Stanford, Li also founded the national non-profit AI4ALL in March 2017. According to the company’s website, AI4ALL “opens doors to artificial intelligence for historically excluded talent through education and mentorship.

The company was started after Russakovsky approached Li at Stanford with the idea to increase access to the field of AI for underrepresented people. Li became a founding board member with Russakovsky and two others, with the team securing critical early funding from the Melinda Gates-led fund Pivotal Ventures.

Radical Ventures

Li joined Canadian VC firm Radical Ventures as a partner in February 2023. In a post announcing the deal, Li explained her reasons for joining that company in particular: “Radical is a different kind of VC. They are at the center of a global AI talent ecosystem driving the innovations that will ultimately transform every company and every industry and touch every person.

Li was no doubt attracted to Radical’s human-centered approach to AI development, but she is also a long-time friend of founder and Managing Partner Jordan Jacobs.

Key takeaways:

  • Fei-Fei Li is an American computer scientist who was born in China in 1976. Li is best known for her work on the ImageNet project and its large database that is used to research visual object recognition software
  • After a brief period as an assistant professor at both Princeton and the University of Illinois, Li moved to Stanford University in 2014 where she lead the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL). She continues to serve as a Stanford professor today and is also involved in the university’s Human-Centered AI Institute (HAI).
  • In January 2017, Li took a sabbatical from Stanford, joined Google, and became a VP and Chief Scientist of AI/ML. While passionate about computer vision applications in Google Cloud, Li expressed concerns that the technology could be used in warfare. She ultimately parted ways with Google in 2018 and founded the national non-profit AI4ALL.

Key Highlights

  • Background and Contributions:
    • Fei-Fei Li is an American computer scientist known for her significant contributions to the field of artificial intelligence.
    • She is best known for her work on the ImageNet project and its large database, which has been instrumental in advancing research in visual object recognition software.
  • Education and Early Career:
    • Li moved to the United States from China at the age of 15.
    • She earned a BA in Physics from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Caltech University.
    • She held assistant professor positions at Princeton and the University of Illinois before joining Stanford University.
  • Stanford University and AI Leadership:
    • Li joined Stanford University in 2014 as a faculty member and led the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL).
    • During her time at Stanford, she invented the ImageNet large-scale dataset, a critical resource for training and evaluating visual recognition models.
    • Li has contributed to the education of numerous AI personalities, including David Stavens, Andrej Karpathy, and Olga Russakovsky.
  • Google and Ethical Concerns:
    • In 2017, Li took a sabbatical from Stanford to join Google as VP and Chief Scientist of AI/ML.
    • She oversaw cloud-related AI research, engineering efforts, university relations, and AI/ML product suite.
    • Li raised ethical concerns about Google’s involvement in Project Maven, a project focused on computer vision algorithms for military applications.
  • Return to Stanford and AI4ALL:
    • Li stepped down from her role at Google in 2018 and returned to Stanford.
    • She now heads the Human-Centered AI Institute (HAI) at Stanford, focusing on AI research, education, and policy.
  • AI4ALL and Social Impact:
    • Li founded AI4ALL, a national non-profit organization aimed at increasing access to AI education and mentorship for underrepresented groups.
    • AI4ALL was established to promote diversity and inclusion in the field of artificial intelligence.
  • Radical Ventures and VC Involvement:
    • Li joined Canadian VC firm Radical Ventures as a partner in 2023.
    • She was drawn to the company’s human-centered approach to AI development and its role in driving AI innovations.

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