5 Inspiring Women in AI You Should Know About

5 minutes

When cutting-edge AI systems and tools come on the scene, it’s easy to forget that there are lots of humans behind these tech marvels. Sure, you might hear the same names of a few high-profile CEOs and thought leaders in the news (like Elon Musk and Sam Altman), but the AI and machine learning field is full of diverse and accomplished people. 

Women contribute to AI research and innovations, often to less fanfare than their male counterparts. Women hold just 35% of STEM jobs in the U.S., and the fraction of women working in AI is even slimmer. A past report from the World Economic Forum suggests that women only account for 22% of AI professionals in the workforce.  

For International Women’s Day, we put together a list of women in technology who are developing AI advancements, fostering important discussions about ethics in AI, and serving as role models for aspiring technologists from marginalized communities. This is by no means a comprehensive list — if you want to take a deep dive into today’s tech talent, the organization Women in Machine Learning maintains a database of women experts working in the field of machine learning.   

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We hope these inspiring women motivate you to pursue ambitious goals and keep learning about AI and machine learning. Be sure to check out the rest of our Women’s History Month blogs, including this list of programming languages that were created by women, and books by and about women in tech

Dr. Aakanksha Chowdhery 

Lead Research Scientist at Google DeepMind 

Known for: Pre-training, scaling, and finetuning of Large Language Models. She was the Technical Lead who theorized and coded PaLM (Pathways Language Model) and was a core contributor on Gemini

In an interview on Google’s “Meet a Researcher” YouTube series, Dr. Chowdhery talked about how AI tools are making it easier for people to work with lots of programming languages. As a child, she was fascinated by computers and would spend hours learning different languages like Lotus 1-2-3, Logo, FORTRAN, COBOL, and Basic. (Fun fact: a bunch of those languages were invented by women technologists.)

“It was a ton of languages that I had to learn to program each of these different tasks,” Dr. Chowdhery said. “What’s really inspired me is that now I don’t have to go learn all these languages; I can talk to computers like I can talk to humans. This is really a turning point in the history of human-computer [and] human-machine interaction.”  

Dr. Fei-Fei Li 

Co-Director of Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Institute 

Known for: She co-created ImageNet, a large-scale dataset for visual recognition, which has been instrumental in advancing the field of computer vision and deep learning. Her 2015 TED Talk on the subject is worth watching even today.

Dr. Li is a renowned AI expert and leader at one of the foremost AI research institutes. When it comes to gender diversity in academia, 76% of computer science, computer engineering, and IT faculty at North American universities are male, according to The AI Index 2023 Annual Report by Stanford University. 

“Now we have a new generation of women professors. But this is far from enough,” Dr. Li told CNBC. “This field has a severe lack of women and underrepresented minority and this will impact the technology.”  

Anima Anandkumar 

Bren Professor of Computing at Caltech  

Known for: She’s held top research positions at NVIDIA and AWS. Her research focuses on algorithmic foundations for AI in scientific domains, and she specializes in neural operators, optimization, probabilistic models, and tensor methods. 

Both of Anima’s parents were engineers in Mysore, India, and her mother was one of the first women in their community to pursue engineering. Seeing her mother confidently navigate a male-dominated industry impacted Amina. 

“I never saw it as something weird for women to be interested in engineering. My mother inculcated in us that appreciation of math and sciences early on,” she said in an interview with Quanta Magazine. “Having that be just a natural part of who I am from early childhood went a long way. If my mom ever saw sexism, she would point it out and say, ‘No, don’t accept this.’ That really helped.” 

Dr. Joy Buolamwini 

AI Researcher and Founder of the Algorithmic Justice League 

Known for: Her groundbreaking research on facial recognition technology and her book Unmasking AI, which digs into the how racism, sexism, colorism, and ableism manifest in AI.  

Dr. Buolamwini is an artist in addition to an academic, and she goes by the moniker “Poet of Code.” Art is a medium that humanizes AI and can reach lots of different people who may not have technical backgrounds.  

“Research was not enough for me to teach everyday people whose life opportunities and pathways were being shaped by often faceless and nameless technology,” Dr. Buolamwini told TIME. “So I began to find my voice as a poet of code, a person who could penetrate technical jargon to highlight the harms and equip people with knowledge to resist harmful uses of AI.”

Melissa Heikkilä 

Senior AI Reporter at MIT Technology Review 

Known for: Writing about how AI is changing our society. Check out one of her recent stories, which was a letter to Taylor Swift that unpacks how we can combat deepfake porn.  

In a recent interview with “The Good Robot Podcast,” Melissa emphasized the importance of intersectional feminism and inclusivity in the development of technology. If technologists can consider how technology affects people from different genders, races, and classes from the outset, “I think we have a chance of this technology becoming a really powerful helpful tool instead of a sh-t show,” she said.    

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