Fei Fei Li Looks to Solve the Problem of Artificial Intelligence

Right after the Startup of the Year competition finished, Fei Fei Li, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University, took the stage at Innovate! and Celebrate to welcome entrepreneurs, founders, and attendees to the conference with an in-depth discussion of artificial intelligence. And when we say in-depth, that is exactly what we mean.

Learning Visual Intelligence

Li started the discussion off by discussing the importance of vision when it comes to general intelligence. Going back more than 500 million years, she explained that there was no bigger evolutionary expansion than the development of one particular body part: the eyes. As she explains:

“The Cambrian explosion was triggered by the evolution of vision. Visual intelligence is a key aspect of general intelligence.”

Flashing forward a few million millennia, Li touched on how technology has struggled to keep up with the human brain in terms of its ability to learn and see the way we do. In Li’s words, the key to creating computers that are as smart as we are is learning.

“Learning is the most critical part of human intelligence. This is what we need to enable computers to do. Learning is the path to visual intelligence.”

As many know and Li emphasized, artificial intelligence has become a staple of technology in recent years. Innovations like facial recognition software have made life so much easier in such a short period of time that it is already being take for granted by everyone from Facebook users to website creators. And machine learning is the driving force making it possible.

“Machine learning is helping to address the most important and fundamental problems with artificial intelligence.”

A Problem: The Variety in the Real World

The problem, said Li, is that the amount of variants in the real world can create a lot of problems for artificial intelligence. She cleverly and hilariously demonstrated this by showing a number of cats in some of the most adorable and unique poses. She explained that, while artificial intelligence can easily recognize a cat sitting or walking or even jumping, a cat in a pose like the one below is decidedly more difficult.


Li has been on the front lines of the battle to solve these problems. Her team at Stanford has worked tirelessly to make computer vision intelligence more comprehensive and effective than ever. They have created technology that not only can recognize faces, but can actually dictate a scene with considerably impressive accuracy. And it’s making computers seem like they can do anything.

“The algorithm can see a picture and speak human language. We’re seeing computers start to think like humans.”

Li did admit that the technology is far from perfect. With a few hilarious examples of the algorithm flat out getting it wrong — like mistaking a toothbrush for a baseball bat or a bearded man for a teddy bear — she emphasized that we still have a long way to go. But we’re on the way faster than you might have expected.

“Computer vision will be the enabling technological Cambrian explosion, and we’re not that far away from it.”

Check out the keynote speech at Innovate! and Celebrate with Fei Fei Li below.

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Written by:
Conor is the Lead Writer for Tech.co. For the last six years, he’s covered everything from tech news and product reviews to digital marketing trends and business tech innovations. He's written guest posts for the likes of Forbes, Chase, WeWork, and many others, covering tech trends, business resources, and everything in between. He's also participated in events for SXSW, Tech in Motion, and General Assembly, to name a few. He also cannot pronounce the word "colloquially" correctly. You can email Conor at conor@tech.co.
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