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Jane Wang, AI research scientist at DeepMind
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re an AI research scientist

Written by
James FitzGerald

…according to Jane Wang, 36.

AI can make London greener

‘At DeepMind, we want AI to help solve the world’s most important problems. You can use it in city planning to predict the effect of widening a street, or to see how transportation can be better optimised. We think AI can have an impact in environmental issues, and are already using it to make our own buildings at Google use less energy.’

‘Artificial intelligence’ can mean many things

‘In my view, AI is quite a broad category: it includes machine learning, but also other things that involve taking a data set and trying to output something that’s more useful. To me, even Netflix show recommendations are a type of AI.’

AIs are still a long way from thinking exactly like humans

‘Our neuroscientists are trying to better understand the functions of the human brain. But there are things humans do that we can’t capture yet, like symbolic reasoning: seeing a phone or TV and knowing what you can do with that object. That’s still difficult for AI.’

The job involves surprisingly few robots

‘Very few of us work in robotics. Most of my day is spent at a computer: programming, writing papers, or preparing talks. In sci-fi movies, some AI researcher will code something up in an hour. In reality, AI is a group endeavour that involves hard work and collaboration with a lot of people.’

It’s not all about Silicon Valley

‘Along with Canada, London is absolutely a hub for this industry. Here, there’s the opportunity to see the effects our work has on a diverse population. If our work is going to impact on everybody, it can’t be done with just one group of people in mind.’

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