Meet a Dragon: Haroon Choudery
Data scientist by day, and non-profit executive by night, Haroon Choudery, explains why it’s so important to democratize access to AI education, and why he was drawn to Komodo’s mission.
In 2017, you co-founded and became executive director of A.I. For Anyone, a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve AI literacy for all ages. Tell us about why you founded the organization, its goals and where you hope it’ll be in ten years
My primary motivation for co-founding A.I. For Anyone was to help bridge the knowledge gap between under-served communities and white-collar communities when it came to their understanding of artificial intelligence. As an immigrant whose father worked in a variety of labor jobs — as a taxi driver, tow-truck driver and poultry farmer — I’ve had the opportunity to see both sides of the fence. It bothered me that the underserved communities who would be most impacted by the effects of automation were the ones with the least understanding of the technology and how it will impact their livelihoods.
(I delivered a speech at Deloitte in 2019 where I explained my motivation for starting A.I. For Anyone. You can find the transcript here: The Dire Need for AI Education)
Our approach with A.I. For Anyone was to tackle the two primary constraints that prevent under-served schools from teaching the fundamentals of AI on their own: subject matter knowledge and time. We developed a 60-minute introduction to AI and built a network of volunteers to deliver the workshops at no cost to the school. Although you can only cover so much ground in a 60-minute workshop, our goal is simply to give our students exposure to the most salient ideas around AI and then follow-up with resources they can pursue to learn more.
Since 2018, we’ve been able to directly teach over 1,500 students. Earlier this year, we launched a Toolkit that empowers teachers to deliver our AI 101 presentation on their own in less than an hour, with no prior knowledge of AI required. We’re very excited about placing the power to teach the fundamentals of AI in the hands of educators through the Toolkit.
It’s hard to predict what the world will look like in 10 years, especially as it pertains to AI. What I do know is that A.I. For Anyone will continue to work to democratize AI knowledge to ensure the technology is built and used in a way that benefits society as a whole.
A.I. for Anyone is teaming up with Mark Cuban’s foundation to host a ‘Learn AI in 60 Minutes’ virtual workshop for students/educators on April 15 at 7:00pm EST. How did this come about? What do you hope to achieve?
I reached out to my friends at the Mark Cuban Foundation (MCF) to figure out how we could make the most of the increased downtime and flexibility many students have due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We run workshops that teach students the basics of AI and MCF runs boot camps that teach students how to build AI applications, so there was a natural partnership opportunity there.
We decided to host a virtual event where we’ll deliver a modified version of our AI 101 presentation to students across the world. Both of our organizations have been looking to scale beyond the primary locations where we serve and this was a great opportunity to do so. Although we were excited at the prospect of reaching a new audience through this virtual workshop, we never expected it to take off the way it did. We have more than 50,000 registrations so far — and I hear we are breaking Eventbrite records!
We’re blown away to see that there is so much appetite to learn more about AI. Parents and educators say they appreciate the opportunity for quality educational programs like this in the current circumstances. It’s been a tough few weeks adjusting to distance learning, and we are glad we can support students, parents, and educators from the comfort of their own homes.
We’ve also gotten a lot of support from Mark Cuban himself, and coverage in CNBC, which is really encouraging to see. Even Marcus Lemonis from The Profit showed his appreciation of the effort on Twitter, which I was personally really excited about.
What do you want people to know about AI? Are there common misconceptions?
The most important thing we want our students to take away from our workshops is that we all have the ability and responsibility to shape the future of AI. AI has the potential to broadly improve standards of living, but there are also risks of negative consequences. By involving everyone, regardless of social status, in the discussions that are shaping the future of this technology, we can build a future that’s suitable for all of us.
In the last five years, you completed a masters degree in Information and Data Science from UC Berkeley — and worked at Facebook, Mark Cuban Companies, and Deloitte Consulting. What brought you recently to Komodo Health?
The people and the mission. From my first phone call with the recruiter to this day, I’ve been nothing short of amazed with the level of support and care that each Komodo Health “dragon” has for one another. The organization has done a great job of breeding a culture that fosters a strong sense of purpose and community.
When you hire top talent and empower them to be their whole selves, you create an intangible magic in the workplace that brings out the best in everyone. That’s what I see here at Komodo and I couldn’t be more glad to be a part of it.
What brings you the most satisfaction about your work at Komodo Health and AI for Anyone?
My friends would say that the two things that describe me best are: my passion for AI and my passion for helping others. At both Komodo Health and A.I. For Anyone, I’m able to work on important problems that impact the people that need it the most.
At Komodo Health, we’re building the world’s most actionable healthcare map and that ultimately benefits patients. At A.I. For Anyone, we’re teaching under-served communities how to best prepare for the changes that AI lends to.
If you weren’t working in healthtech and AI – what would you be doing professionally?
Probably reviewing new tech gadgets on YouTube…I seriously can’t get enough of those videos.