As SAILORS returns for the second summer, the new campers are giddy with excitement. After grabbing breakfast and getting to know one another, the girls situate themselves in a lecture room in the Gates Computer Science building at Stanford University. Professor Fei-Fei Li, director of the SAILORS program and the AI Lab as a whole, warmly welcomes the campers to the summer program, imparting the grounds on which the idea of an all-girls, two-week research-intensive program came about just two years ago. Though Professor Li acknowledges the recent talk of the possibility of AI becoming the “terminator next door” that some critics of the field fear, that was exactly what swayed her, along with co-director Olga Russakovsky, to feel the desperate need of bringing more females into the field of AI. Because, as Prof. Li puts it, when we have women who gravitate AI towards humanity–women who are compassionate, who care about AI safety–the potential benefits from the societal impact far outweigh the prospect of AI coming to dominate the world.
The attention turns to Iro Armeni, a PhD student and the program director of SAILORS, who introduces the entire SAILORS team–a handful of Stanford AI lab researchers, professors, TAs, and junior counselors–and concludes with numbers showing the vast diversity amongst the campers this summer.
Following orientation, the girls are challenged with their first task: to complete a survey as honestly as one can, which truly challenges the girls to deeply reflect on topics ranging from the obstacles they face being female and pursuing STEM to the individualistic and innovative applications they see AI having on society at present and in the future. These surveys are used throughout the program, as SAILORS is constantly under rigorous evaluation that aims to “quantitatively measure”, as Prof. Li jokes, the efficacy of the program and its curriculum, as well as the ultimate impact the program places on the girls going forward.
Professor Fei-Fei Li then leads an engaging talk on computer vision, her field of expertise, introducing ImageNet, the first big data site born right here in the Stanford AI Lab, which had completely transformed the frontier of computer vision research for scientists around the world. The students are fascinated by Prof. Li’s astounding idea of treating computer vision analogously to a newborn seeing and feeling and, ultimately learning, about its surroundings. It’s no surprise that the girls begin to flood the room with grins and questions.
Completely AI-unrelated, the campers, who come from all over the country and abroad, embark on a campus tour of Stanford University in the form of a Scavenger Hunt. Students are split into groups and receive clues and riddles hinting towards famous landmarks and buildings on campus. And boy do the girls bond quickly! As a team, the girls struggle through together in solving the riddles, racing to be the first team back.
After the long walk, the girls rush to the food and have lunch out in the patio behind Gates. With the sunny day out, the girls settle under the picnic umbrellas and get to know one another even more.
Following lunch, the girls begin a Python tutorial with Alisha Adam, a lecturer for Stanford’s Intro to CS class, and the girls, in groups, demonstrate their brilliant minds when they create multiple creative algorithms to solve simple tasks.
The four individual research projects that follow is perhaps the meat of it all, where campers get to experience firsthand working with real data and AI algorithms, each geared toward specific societal benefits for humans. Research projects include assisting with disaster relief using natural language processing, decoding DNA to find meaning in the genome, making hospitals safer with computer vision, and predicting the future of personal transportation with self-driving cars.
The girls, mentors, and professors can all agree: day one has been an absolute blast and we certainly can’t wait for more!