Day 7: Hexacopter Demo, Stereotype Threat, and Meeting Jackrabbot

The morning began with breakfast with Professor Mykel Kochenderfer, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and director of Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory (SISL). Kochenderfer talked about everything from balancing work in academia and time spent with family to his interest in flying planes as a teenager, which ultimately influenced his work today.

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Prof. Kochenderfer shares a personal anecdote on college life at Stanford University.

Following breakfast, Prof. Kochenderfer led a lecture on intelligent decision making under uncertainty, particularly in the case of collision avoidance. Aware of the limitations within the current TCAS system, Kochenderfer’s research led to the creation of the Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS X). Campers learned all about the models and algorithms powering ACAS X, such as Markov Decision Processes (MDP) and dynamic programming, which collectively make planes safer.kochenderfer lecture

Prof. Kochenderfer’s PhD students, Rachael Tompa and Louis Dressel, then led a tutorial on the effects of tweaking parameters on PID controllers, which regulate systems as simple as thermostats at home!

The campers then embarked on a trip to Lake Lagunita for a demo on hexacopters. The girls learned the effects of tweaking the proportional and derivative parameters on the stability of the drones.

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Campers tweaking parameters of the PID controller to smooth the sharp jolts and turns of the hexacopter.

In the afternoon, the campers engaged in a personal growth session on combating stereotype threat with Gregg Muragishi, a PhD student at the Department of Psychology of Stanford University. Muragishi emphasized the importance of developing a growth mindset, especially in times of overcoming the “culture of genius” surrounding workplaces and institutions alike.

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Activity: Campers pouring their frustration with challenges onto a piece of paper.

After the personal growth activities, the campers were met with a surprise visit from Jackrabbot, a new-generation social robot. Created in the Computational Vision and Geometry Lab at Stanford University, Jackrabbot was designed to learn how to mingle among humans in crowded spaces while following proper etiquette. When asked about the possible applications social robots like Jackrabbot could have on society, the girls mentioned everything from making traffic more efficient at train stations to assisting the blind!

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Campers volunteer to demonstrate the instinctive social behaviors that Jackrabbot observes and learns.
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Campers follow the gaze of Jackrabbot, which has its eye on the moving chair and maneuvers accordingly.

The day concluded with campers continuing their research in their respective projects, which 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. As the days count down to final presentation day, some campers have already started making plans for creating poster boards and discussing the skeleton of their talk!


Day 4: Computational Linguistics, Industry Panel, Keynote Speaker and Banquet!

While munching on breakfast, the girls engaged in the daily Q&A session, today with Christopher Manning, professor of computer science and linguistics at Stanford. Specialized in computational linguistics, Prof. Manning answered questions campers raised on the challenges natural language processing (NLP) faces when deciphering languages that are not nearly as explicit in meaning as is English.


manning_lecture2Professor Manning then led a lecture addressing the ambiguity of language and the problem with multiple interpretations. The girls learned why the ability for machines to really understand is critical to machine translation. Manning emphasizes, “viewing thought and reasoning like language leads to the symbolic view of classical AI.”

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Following the lecture was a tutorial led by Idit Kosti on the Fisher Exact test and using statistics in gene expression analysis.

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Lunch was exciting with Maria Klawe, first female president of Harvey Mudd College, joining in and really getting to know the girls.

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Despite the packed schedule, research project time was not neglected. In fact, campers managed to spend nearly three hours learning and coding for their respective projects projects.


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During today’s personal growth session, women in industry currently working for top companies like Google, Airbnb, Intel, and Baidu shared their experiences and gave advice to the girls on being female in computer science. When asked what the most important traits to have in order to be a successful engineer are, the panelists replied “communication” in consensus. One woman explained, “As women, we have tendency to hold back.” Others emphasized just how important it is to speak up to others and to fight the natural urge of women to dismiss their own individual thought. Another panelist from Airbnb explained, “I think the perception is changing…a lot of people are now more encouraged to pursue other passions other than what they are expected to.” Adding on to that thought, a woman from Google encouraged having other interests related to computer science too that can help girls identify with and understand the coding work they do even more.

Keynote Speaker: Maria Klawe

Maria Klawe delivered an influential talk on diversity in schools, both in gender and in race. Maria Klawe’s philosophy on a healthy learning environment is helping and learning from peers and faculty of diverse backgrounds and gender, a culture she has successfully ingrained into Harvey Mudd College. She has brought both males and females to equal proportions at Mudd, and has risen the percentage of minorities such as African Americans or Hispanic people. A firm believer that change is possible, she’s now with SAILORS in asking the world: What’s stopping institutions elsewhere from doing the same?

Reception Dinner

While SAILORS campers, parents, mentors and friends from industry seated in the patio just outside the Gates Computer Science building, Professor Fei-Fei Li, Iro Armeni, and Olga Russakovsky delivered welcome and closing speeches, and discussed just how important it is for girls in their early years of high school to start getting exposed to AI and computer science. Because these are the girls that are going to be the leaders of tomorrow in changing AI and the revolutionaries pushing for humanity.

Then came what everyone was waiting for: the exciting presentations on the four research projects by the girls themselves! The girls explained each of their projects, from assisting with disaster relief using natural language processing to making hospitals safer with computer vision, and from decoding DNA to find meaning in the genome to predicting the future of personal transportation with self-driving cars. Each girl had the opportunity to speak on what the project means to them personally to an audience seating over a hundred people. The girls came out confident and absolutely showed their eagerness and enthusiasm!

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Reception during sunset, with Gates building to the left
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Olga Russakovsky cheering SAILORS girls on!

What a long and exciting day! We hope the girls get well rested for another day of AI and fun!



Day 1: Kickoff! Computer Vision, Scavenger Hunt, and more!

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.

Professor Fei-Fei Li on the rationale behind SAILORS

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.

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Iro Armeni welcoming campers

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.

A camper thoughtfully completes the survey

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.

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Professor Fei-Fei Li on computer vision and its applications

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.

The girls bonding so effortlessly during the scavenger hunt

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.

Campers in the division for disaster relief using natural language processing 

The girls, mentors, and professors can all agree: day one has been an absolute blast and we certainly can’t wait for more!