Happy Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Month! Below, we've gathered a few of the brilliant AA & NH/PI pioneers launching American science & tech into the future.
Co-Inventor of USB Technology
In today’s world, where tech is increasingly connected by Bluetooth and WiFi and wires are fast disappearing, it’s easy to forget the key technologies that got us here. But even for those of us who have the most cutting-edge tech, it’s difficult to avoid the USB.
The idea for the USB was born in 1994, when Ajay Bhatt, an Indian-born computer architect working for Intel, found himself frustrated by his daughter’s difficulty in connecting a printer to the family computer. Then and there, Bhatt decided that data transfers like the one his daughter needed should be no more difficult than plugging a cord into a wall outlet. After pitching the idea for USB tech to his colleagues at Intel, Bhatt put together a team of experts from Intel and other companies to design a new way of connecting computers. USB transformed how people used computers, becoming one of the most successful, enduring connection technologies in history.
AI Research Pioneer
Dr. Fei Fei Li is broadly considered one of the top minds in artificial intelligence.
In 2006, as a newly-minted computer science professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Li watched her colleagues across academia and the AI industry hammering away at the same concept: a better algorithm would make better decisions. But she realized a limitation to this approach—the best algorithm wouldn’t work well if the data it learned from didn’t reflect the real world. Her solution? Build a better dataset.
Li and her team embarked on an unprecedented challenge: to map out the entire world of objects. What resulted was ImageNet, a massive visual object recognition database that acted as the catalyst for the AI boom we’re witnessing today.
Currently, Li teaches computer science at Stanford University and serves as Co-Director of Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Institute. During one brief sabbatical from Stanford, she was Vice President at Google and served as Chief Scientist of AI/ML at Google Cloud. Li is also the co-founder of AI4ALL, a nonprofit dedicated to boosting diversity and inclusion in AI.
First Native Hawaiian Tenure-Track Computer Science Professor
Dr. Hester’s lab at Northwestern is called the Ka Mamoa lab. The name comes from the mamoa, a small indentation at the rear of ancient Hawaiian canoes, where the spirit sits to provide guidance on voyages. Dr. Hester chose this name because he considers it the role of scientists to function as a guide for society, especially when tackling global-scale challenges, such as climate change, where often the direction is unknown and the destination far off. In his lab, Dr. Hester and his team are focused on building smart electronic devices to support applications across health care, environmental stewardship, and space exploration: smart face masks that monitor respiration and mask fit, soil-powered sensors for smart cities, and even a battery-free Game Boy.
For Dr. Hester, coupling computer science with sustainability is deeply motivated by his cultural heritage. As a Native Hawaiian, Dr. Hester understands how Native peoples’ expertise about their home landscapes far exceeds the expertise of people with a doctoral education. In his lab, Dr. Hester champions engaging technology to address issues that Indigenous people care deeply about, thereby broadening participation in STEM.
AA & NH/PI Heritage Month is the perfect time to celebrate the resilience, brilliance, and grit of the AA & NH/PI community in STEM. At TCS, we believe that coding has the power to be a great social equalizer and that everyone benefits when we create more opportunities for students from all walks of life to develop this skill. Through our coding curriculum, we hope to encourage and empower a diverse generation of future leaders in STEM. Looking for more AA & NH/PI STEM icons? Check out our blog post from AA & NH/PI Month 2022.