Why Mark Cuban’s Startups are Advising High Schoolers on Artificial Intelligence

One evening in late November, high school students across North America opened up their laptops and enabled their web cams. A blank Zoom conference window quickly filled with teenage faces tuning in from their bedrooms, eager to participate in a live chat with AI entrepreneurs who had all landed investment from Mark Cuban.

Four Mark Cuban-Backed AI startups coached AI4ALL’s alumni last month.

These students were alumni of programs hosted by a Bay Area non-profit called AI4ALL. AI4ALL, co-founded by prominent leaders in AI like Stanford’s Fei-Fei Li, and backed by NVIDIA’s Jensen Huang, is working to increase diversity and inclusion in the field of artificial intelligence through education and mentorship. They do this by hosting weeks-long summer programs across North America for high school girls and other underrepresented minorities in the AI field. They also host alumni programs during the school year to extend the learning outside of the summer experiences.

This chat was with four AI startups in industries ranging from entertainment to apparel, but all sharing Cuban as a common investor. Cuban is a major proponent of AI development and an active investor in the field.

“It’s great to see the founders I’ve invested in giving back to the next generation of tech leaders,”

Cuban arranged that evening’s live chat and encouraged his founders to take an hour away from building their companies to share their experiences with the group of forward-thinking students. “It’s great to see the founders I’ve invested in giving back to the next generation of tech leaders,” said Cuban. “AI4ALL’s work to promote diversity in the industry is critical to countering algorithmic bias and ensuring inclusion in the future of work moving forward. I’m glad we could be a part of the work they’re doing.”

After introducing themselves, each startup representative hosted a virtual breakout session moderated by a student volunteer. The sessions were recorded for distribution to AI4ALL’s network of young alumni across the world. Students asked about the companies’ technology, the founders’ early careers in AI, and how each company prioritizes diversity in their technology development.

“If you’re only working with a group of people that is very alike, you’ll think in an alike way. In AI, which is driven a lot by the data fed to the algorithms, you have to think about diversity,” responded Victor Riparbelli, Co-founder and CEO of Synthesia, a UK-based company that uses AI to match an actor’s facial movements to dubbed versions of their speech.

“Diversity is do or die for our industry,”

“Diversity is do or die for our industry,” reflected Brian Mount, Senior Engineer at Motionloft, a startup that builds computer vision sensors to count people and vehicles in physical space.

The founders also had a chance to ask questions of the students, many of whom have developed AI applications themselves through AI4ALL’s programs. One alumnus spoke about the application she built to translate images of letters signed in American Sign Language to English text. Another AI4ALL alumnus is building an application to help people sort everyday objects as compostable, recyclable, or trash.

“…it’s so helpful for AI4ALL alumni to have the opportunity to speak with and learn from people who are already working in AI,”

“As they consider their education and career options, it’s so helpful for AI4ALL alumni to have the opportunity to speak with and learn from people who are already working in AI,” said Tess Posner, CEO of AI4ALL. “We appreciate the time that Bold Metrics, Synthesia, Motionloft, and 2020CV spent sharing their real-life challenges and showing our alumni how they incorporate AI into their products.”

Following the breakout sessions, the students regrouped to reflect on what they’d learned.

“They saw themselves as disrupting the apparel industry,” reflected one of the student moderators after his chat with Morgan Linton, founder of Bold Metrics, a startup using AI to improve the size and fit of apparel. “What they’re doing is incredible — lowering return rates. When you buy something and return it, most likely it will end up in a landfill. By implementing the Bold Metrics API, you’re saving the environment and the companies are saving by not having excess.”

“I hope I can be brave enough to take those steps and try even if I don’t feel qualified.”

As students learned about the companies’ technology, some also related personally to the difficult journey of taking big risks like founding a company. After chatting with Brian Mount from Motionloft, one student felt encouraged to take bold steps to try new things: “Brian said that even though when he and his friends were trying to pitch a grant for their startup, he felt like he wasn’t qualified, but they still got [the grant]. I hope I can be brave enough to take those steps and try even if I don’t feel qualified.”

Another student remarked, “I learned a lot from Hart’s story about how his journey through technology has gone and also from the actual technological backbone of his company.” Hart Woolery is the founder of 2020CV, a startup developing consumer applications for computer vision, like Instasaber and SpeakingPuppy.

The founders provided their contact information and will continue to make themselves available to AI4ALL students who want to follow up with more questions about their companies or AI in general.

The Live Chat was one of many ways AI4ALL works to engage alumni of their summer programs. The organization is also developing an online Open Learning program to expand further their mission of making AI education more accessible to learners from all backgrounds around the world.