The Omission of Women from the “Who’s Who” List in Artificial Intelligence

Over the weekend, Fei-Fei Li came to my mind. She is a renowned computer science researcher known for her creation of ImageNet, the image dataset that sparked the rapid advancements in AI and computer vision. Furthermore, she has spent nearly 15 years as a professor of computer science at Stanford University and is a co-director of the Stanford University Human-Centered AI Institute. Li has also served as the former chief scientist of AI and ML at Google, and has recently authored a book titled “The Worlds I See,” which has been featured in top publications such as the Economist, NPR, Fortune, MIT Technology Review, and Wired.

Interestingly, Fei-Fei Li was mysteriously missing from a recent list published by the New York Times, titled “Who’s Who Behind the Dawn of the Modern Artificial Intelligence Movement.” Even more astonishingly, the list did not feature any women at all. Instead, it consisted of twelve individuals including Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, Dario Amodei, the co-founder of Anthropic, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, Demis Hassabis, the co-founder of DeepMind, Geoffrey Hinton, an AI researcher, Reid Hoffman, a venture capitalist, Elon Musk, the leader of Tesla and X, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist, Eliezer Yudkowsky, an “internet philosopher,” and Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta.

Upon reading this list, one can’t help but imagine the collective eye-rolling occurring across the country and around the world. The absence of any women from the list is not only disheartening but reflects a larger issue in the tech industry as a whole. It is disheartening to witness the lack of representation for women who have immensely contributed to the modern artificial intelligence movement.

Prior to the eye-rolling and head-shaking in disbelief, there must have been a mix of emotions experienced by Fei-Fei Li and numerous other women who have played pivotal roles in the artificial intelligence field. These emotions likely include furrowed brows, squinted eyes, and a moment of disbelief while reading the list. It is an experience that resonates with many, as the representation of women in AI is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed.

As a female journalist covering AI, I can personally attest to the experience of frustration. It is disheartening to continually address the lack of representation for women in the field, and I would much rather focus on other pressing topics, such as the governance problems related to OpenAI’s nonprofit board. It is unfortunate that OpenAI eliminated the only female board members, and the statement that “white men ‘Bret, Larry, and Adam’ will work hard to build a diverse board” only exacerbates the problem.

The AI community must strive for better representation and inclusivity. It is crucial to create conference panels that address serious and interesting AI issues while ensuring diverse representation. It is disconcerting to moderate a panel where the only female participants are on my panel or to sit on a panel that entirely lacks female representation. The responsibility falls on everyone to actively work towards bridging the gender gap in AI.

Fei-Fei Li’s omission from the “Who’s Who” list in artificial intelligence is merely a symptom of a much larger problem of lacking representation for women in the field. It is essential to acknowledge the contributions of women, such as Fei-Fei Li, who have been instrumental in shaping the AI landscape. Moving forward, it is imperative for the tech industry to prioritize diversity and inclusivity to ensure that the advancements in AI are truly representative of the diverse society it serves.

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