(Photo by Vivian Liu)
California School of the Arts

My experience at AI4ALL: more than a summer camp

Programming artificial intelligence is no simple feat. Thus, on the drive up from Los Angeles to Palo Alto, Calif. to spend two and half weeks of summer living and programming AI on the Stanford campus, I couldn’t help but feel intimidated. I expected classes and projects taught by studious and rigorous teachers.

I had heard stories of the successful and accomplished AI4ALL alumni who had created non-profits and interned at large Tech companies before the age of 18, so I couldn’t help but expect my peers to be girls who were computer science geniuses who I wouldn’t be able to connect with. 

During the welcome dinner, I sat with my parents instead of trying to mingle like many of the other girls. During house meeting, an hour used to spend time with all 32 campers before bed, I sat by myself in a single chair. We all introduced ourselves, and I didn’t remember a single name that night. 

Well, for the exception of my roommate. Her name was Gabby Ameyaw and she was far from her home in Chicago. We introduced ourselves and the second after, I asked about her programming experiences. 

“Just Girls Who Code club and an Intro to Computer Science class at school,” she said with a shrug.

Since that moment, everything I expected AI4ALL to be, was turned upside down. You weren’t accepted into the program because you knew everything about computer science, but rather because you didn’t have a single clue about the potential for AI. However, you were willing to learn until your brain re-orientated itself. During the course of the two and a half weeks, I had an epiphany every other day.

At times it was related to AI. I learned so much about programming convolutional neural networks and the uses for AI such as in smart rooms that could detect when a patient fell in a hospital or for aircraft that prevents collisions in the sky. I also learned that biased programs should be more feared than the myth killer robots. With a skewed data set, a specific program could discriminate against certain races and genders. This news shocked me and I finally understood the necessity for diverse computer scientists, especially in the AI field. 

“I really enjoyed all the guest lectures and seeing how AI can be applied to so many fields and the potential it has to help the world. Particularly for me, I saw how AI can be used for mapping global poverty. Not everything in AI is a buzzword but they are real powerful principles that can be applied to real world problems,” an AI4ALL participant said. 

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The variety and potential for AI was one of the many things that surprised me, but what surprised me even more was how much fun I had. During free time, we’d all go outside and play volleyball. We’d have lunch with our research mentors from time to time. Joking around in class was nothing to be ashamed of.

Running around the expansive Stanford campus on a scavenger hunt was more fun than exercise. House meetings became personal growth sessions and a time to give out kudos. Programming was a team effort where no one, not even the research mentors, knew all the answers. We weren’t afraid to be ourselves, because it was encouraged every day. And for that, I’m extremely thankful to have been part of the AI4ALL family.