In just its third year of operation, the student-run Oxford Artificial Intelligence Society has cultivated a membership list of 2,000 AI enthusiasts from across the University. President Daniel Lozano, an MSc student in software engineering, and VP of Sponsorship Hailey Trier, a DPhil candidate in cognitive neuroscience, talk about the society's exciting new era.
Tell us how the Oxford AI Society (OxAI) came about
Daniel Lozano: It all started with some smart researchers and graduate students meeting regularly to talk about developments in artificial intelligence. These people were so passionate about the topic that they decided to create a University society focused on AI. From a founding team of just two or three people and less than 20 members, the society has grown at an exponential rate.
Today we have over 2,000 followers, and for the next 12 months we are excited to bring what we're calling a "new era" for our society. In this new era we will work at a scale and with an impact that has never been seen before in the emerging technology space at Oxford. The game-changer here is our tremendous leadership team of 18 Oxfordians who have published more than 30 papers in world-renowned journals, who come from 15 different countries, and who conduct studies or research in 15 different disciplines. That leadership team includes five amazing women driving AI initiatives. It is very exciting to see this group of people coming together and building something greater than themselves.
Hailey Trier: The interest and excitement surrounding OxAI has really accelerated, and it's been encouraging to see the resources and student signups pouring in. We have already put on a number of exciting events and workshops, such as our machine learning with PyTorch workshop, and this year we are looking to expand the ways we can engage the student body by connecting students with career advice and opportunities as well as conducting our own research with OxAI Labs.
What are the society's goals and ambitions?
DL: We want to drive a journey that leaves a long-lasting legacy, driven by AI, in terms of education, impact and community; a journey where we grow a community that uses AI to change and better the world. If we can inspire or create the next set of billion-dollar AI startups, we will see our vision of transforming Oxford and the world becoming a reality. We are working to make this happen by working on four pillars: education, in-house AI development, community building, and helping our students get the best possible AI jobs.
Specifically for this year we are aiming, among other things, to grow our followers from 2,000 to 20,000; to drive seven to ten events with an average of 300 participants that lead the AI conversations at Oxford; and to educate 10,000 attendees at our AI workshops.
HT: Our goal is to connect and support students and professionals who are interested in AI through education, research, community and career development. I believe that bringing together everyone who is interested in AI will drive the creativity and technical ability necessary to produce the world's next big ideas. Ultimately it is important that we create something bigger than ourselves: we want to build a society that has the structure and sustainability to connect generations of students.
DL: We are working hard to get the community of AI together at Oxford. There is just such a rich and broad community of people doing AI that it is important we connect everyone.
Specifically for this year we are aiming, among other things, to grow our followers from 2,000 to 20,000; to drive seven to ten events with an average of 300 participants that lead the AI conversations at Oxford; and to educate 10,000 attendees at our AI workshops
HT: I was personally amazed by the talent and expertise we gathered on the OxAI leadership team and among our members, and there's no doubt that University of Oxford is at the cutting edge of AI research. I think there is still work to be done in promoting interdisciplinary dialogue, and our strength as a student-led society is in connecting students across the University from within student spaces. To accelerate AI innovation we need to be sharing ideas among students and partnering with external organisations to communicate opportunities.
How important is diversity to OxAI?
DL: To drive creative AI solutions that can really change Oxford and the world, we need a team that thinks differently. To think differently, diversity is the most important aspect we can look to. At OxAI we believe that diversity starts from our leadership team, and it is one of the main components of our culture.
HT: Exploring a new area of study like AI can be even more intimidating for students who feel unrepresented at AI events. Achieving diversity in AI is absolutely critical for AI innovation to reach its full potential and for AI to benefit everyone in society.
Any final thoughts?
HT: I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to achieve so far, but I know this is only the beginning. We’ve carefully organised our team so we can carry out a series of events in the coming year that will have maximum impact and involve the greatest number of interested students. We want to take students from curious to informed and from informed to expert in AI techniques, applications, ethics and societal impact so that the University of Oxford student body will bring even bigger and better ideas into the world.