10 Most Important People in Artificial Intelligence in 2017

“As soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore.”
— John McCarthy

John McCarthy coined the term Artificial Intelligence in 1955.

Since then, the AI industry at large has seen dramatic ups and downs — progress and promise mixed with disappointment and disillusion. But now with the convergence of Megatrends on massive data, lightning fast processing speeds, and renewed competitive fever from the American MAFIA (Microsoft, Alphabet, Facebook, IBM, Amazon), AI is poised to cause disruption on a scale that could surpass the Internet itself.

As we prepare for a wave of AI first companies (@sundarpichai) and AI natives (Ryan Hoover), every person in the innovation economy will need to understand how AI will (or will not) change their industry and their lives.

Source: Waitbutwhy

So start following the work done by these 10 industry titans and, as a bonus, 10 rising stars you may not have heard of today, but will soon:

*Part 1: Industry Titans*

These titans shape the conversation and have the most ability to move the entire AI industry. In alphabetical order [0]:

Amit Singhal, Uber (@theamitsinghal)

In his new seat as the head of Uber’s engineering team, Amit will be driving forward autonomous vehicle breakthrough across the Uber fleet.

Andrew Ng, Baidu (@AndrewYNg)

As one of the creators of the Google Brain and now Chief Scientist at Baidu, the “Google of China”, Andrew shapes the AI conversation in the two largest economies in the world. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the co-founder of Coursera and has 100K followers on Twitter. (Disclosure: GSV owns shares in Coursera)

Elon Musk, SpaceX & Tesla (@elonmusk)

Because. While not a researcher or the head of an AI company, when Elon speaks on AI, people listen. He does chair OpenAI…more on them later.

Jeff Dean, Google

As the creator of MapReduce, Google Brain, TensorFlow, Jeff is at the heart of some of Google’s most important projects and will continue to make waves at the company who first coined the “AI-first” strategy.

Jeff Dean

Ginni Rometty, IBM (@GinniRometty)

IBM has been working on Watson since Ken Jennings’ 74 winning show run on Jeopardy in 2004. Now IBM has positioned its entire future on Watson. Now if only Ginni could get Watson to tweet for her too. The jury is out on Watson, but commend Ginni for turning the core focus of the 105 year company on AI.

Ginni Rometty

Greg Brockman, OpenAI (@gdb)

When Elon and Sam Altman chairs OpenAI, Greg is its CTO and engine for discovery on a daily basis. OpenAI is an unified attempt to make AI technology accessible rather than closed to a particular company or nation, for the benefit of all of humanity, rather than a select slice of humanity.

Martin Ford (@MFordFuture)

The author of Rise of the Robots, Martin shapes the cultural conversations around AI and robots. He’ll have many more best-selling books to come.

Cover image for Rise of the Robots.

Ray Kurzweil, Google

Perhaps the real granddaddy of the group, Ray Kurzweil has been making accurate predictions for the computing industry for decades. He created the concept of the Singularity, predicting that in the next few decades we’ll reach a point where computing power will be so overwhelming that it will eclipse any reason human attempt to process the speed of innovation.

Sebastian Thrun, Udacity (@SebastianThrun)

While he is one of the leading minds on self-driving cars, Sebastian also found time to start Udacity. What’s with AI professors from Stanford starting massive online learning companies? Maybe they realized before anyone that the disruption in AI will require society to re-educate now more so than ever.

Sebastian Thurn

Yann LeCun, Facebook (@ylecun)

Yann heads up Facebook’s AI group in New York. Need I say more? I will. Facebook’s reach and its inherent nature will mean that its progress in AI will be incredibly personal and intimate for billions of people. Yann, with great power, comes great responsibilities.

*Part 2: Rising Stars*

These stars will increasingly play a larger role. While you may not have heard some of them before, they will all make meaningful contributions to the field over the coming decade.

Boris Sofman, ANKI (@bsofman)

Combining the power of software and hardware, ANKI is making a new class of intelligent consumer products. First unveiled at the 2010 Apple WWDC, ANKI now has several hit products that integrates complex intelligence in human friendly robotic toys.

ANKI co-founders: Mark Palatucci, Boris Sofman, Hanns Tappeiner.

Bryan Johnson, Kernel (Bryan Johnson)

While many know Bryan from his payment startup Braintree (acquired by Paypal for $800M), his foray into AI is his most daring bet yet. To say that Kernel is ambitious is to say the universe is large. He and his team is attempting to enhance human capacity through direct integration with computing technology.

Carol Reiley, Drive.ai (Carol E. Reiley)

Carol is steering forward the autonomous driving revolution. A long-time leader in robotics, Carol is also the better half of Andrew Ng (see above). Dare I say “First AI Family of the United States”.

Carol Reiley

Charles Jolley, Ozlo (@okito)

Need a new best friend? Look no further than Ozlo. The company is training Ozlo to become a better and better assistant with each conversation and user and to become a meaningful part of our everyday lives.

Matt Zeiler, Clarifai (Matt Zeiler)

For AI to interact with the real-world, it needs to be able to see the world first. That’s where Matt’s company Clarifai comes in. It runs the image and video recognition platform that many AI products will use in the coming years.

Nikhil Budama, Remedy Medical

After graduating from MIT in 2 years, Nikhil and his team is working to make healthcare both more scalable and accessible for everyone while improving the focus and efficiency of doctors. Remy, the company’s product, helps doctors with administrative work and helps patients receives faster, more on-demand care.


Rand Hindi, Snips (Rand Hindi)

After making MIT’s 35 Under 35 list, Rand is off to the races on creating intelligent technology that disappears into the background and simply works. With his all-star team at Snips, they are creating an artificial assistant that is no frills and simply works.

Riva Tez, Permutation Ventures (@rivatez)

A fast talking Brit, Riva is both an AI investor and evangelist, bringing the issues of healthcare and AI into mainstream conversations. Overcoming personal adversities, Riva now wants to change both the AI and venture capital industry.

Shivon Zilis, Bloomberg Beta (Shivon Zilis)

As the curator of the market ecosystem, Shivon put Machine Intelligence literally on the map. Look for Shivon to influence the direction of the AI industry, especially which companies receive the support they need to thrive, over the coming years.

Shivon Zilis

Sinan Ozdemir, Kylie (@Prof_OZ)

A former data professor at Johns Hopkins University, Sinan is now the co-founder of Kylie, an ai that clones employee personalities to automate conversations between a company and its customers. He is also the author of Principles of Data Science.

The Comet Labs TEAM (@CometLabs)

I know this makes 11 on a list of 10, but I just couldn’t write this without a nod to the TEAM at Comet Labs. They are taking a fresh approach to bringing AI and robotics companies to market, combining the best of an early stage fund with an acceleration lab in partnership with some of the largest corporations in the world.

Heart me maybe?


[0] yep, puns are always intended.