Ten Important Humans Behind Boston’s AI Revolution

Meet the people behind the machines.

Generated by Benjamen Purvis using AI

In one of America’s most vibrant tech hubs, Boston’s artificial intelligence innovation is thriving. Leading groundbreaking research labs to visionary startups, these 10 key figures stand at the forefront of Boston’s AI revolution, driving progress, and reshaping the way we live. Meet the people behind the machines.

Editor’s Note: AI wrote the first draft of this introduction.

See also: A Nuts-and-Bolts Guide to Boston’s AI Revolution

The State Leaders

Left: Yvonne Hao / courtesy of the Office of Maura T. Healey. Right: How AI interpreted Hao’s headshot.

Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development

$100 million. That’s how much money Hao has riding on her ability to make the Bay State the nation’s applied-AI hub. As a cochair of Governor Maura Healey’s new 26-member AI task force—comprised of the brightest minds in tech, business, education, healthcare, and government—the former VC exec is working to galvanize the area’s talent, educational infrastructure, and investment capital to help build and nurture the next generation of businesses she describes as “AI for X”—a.k.a. companies applying AI to specific problems within their industries.

Left: Jason Snyder / courtesy of the Office of Maura T. Healey. Right: How AI interpreted Snyder’s headshot.

Massachusetts CIO and Secretary of Technology Services and Security

Can AI cut through the red tape and make public services run smoother? That’ll be Snyder’s main focus as he and his team partner with Northeastern University on a new program to determine how the technology can transform customers’ notoriously frustrating experiences with MassHealth and the MBTA. And with more than 30 years of experience in the IT sector—including in higher ed and government—Snyder, who’s also a cochair of the AI task force, just might be the guy to figure it out.

See also: How Is AI Funded?

The Educators

Left: Daniela Rus / photo by Daniel Jackson. Right: How AI interpreted Rus’s headshot.

Director, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL)

As the head of the state’s most influential AI lab, Rus presides over 122 faculty members and a few hundred postdocs and researchers who are creating things that just a decade ago would have been sci-fi movie fodder—everything from adaptive smart gloves that can help people learn to play the piano to AI copilots for airplanes. Rus herself is a prolific inventor, having built robots that can bake cookies, reconfigure themselves, and even dance with people—as part of her research group, the Distributed Robotics Lab.

Left: Regina Barzilay / photo by Sean Murphy; right: AI’s reinterpretation.

CSAIL Principal Investigator

Could AI make cancer a relic of the past? With Barzilay at the controls, it just might. The MacArthur Fellow turned a personal experience with cancer into an AI-aided mission that is already bearing remarkable results: Focusing her machine-learning systems on oncology, Barzilay has developed predictive modeling tools that, with high probability, tell patients whether they may develop breast or lung cancer up to six years in advance of its development, greatly aiding early detection, treatment, and mitigation.

The Speculators

Left: Vivjan Myrto. / courtesy photo; right: AI’s reinterpretation.

Founder and Managing Partner, Hyperplane

Who’s funding the AI that could positively change the world? That’d be Myrto, whose company, Hyperplane, invests in companies looking to streamline global logistics and improve food, water, and healthcare systems. Among the ventures Myrto is placing bets on are Biotia, the maker of an AI-based software that identifies dangerous microorganisms and anti-microbial resistance in hospitals; and Greeneye Technology, which created a targeted pest-control system for crops.

Left: Haddad / courtesy Wikimedia Commons Yunis16; Right: AI’s reinterpretation.

Founding Managing Partner, E14 Fund

As the brains behind this MIT Media Lab–affiliated venture fund, Haddad provides some of the most founder-friendly money you can find in the tech startup world, with the fewest strings attached. E14’s portfolio companies are too many to mention here, but here’s a peek: Remember that vision of the future where drones deliver your essentials? Welcome to the world of Elroy Air, an automated air-transit company cheekily named for the youngest child in the Jetsons.

The Founders

Left: Marc Raibert / courtesy photo; right: AI’s reinterpretation.

Founder, Boston Dynamics and Executive Director, Boston Dynamics AI Institute

When Raibert launched Boston Dynamics in 1992, robots were more the stuff of nightmares than the key to a better future. Thanks in part to his company’s work creating two AI-driven robots—the dog-like Spot, as well as Stretch, an automated warehouse tool—they’re on the cusp of becoming part of our everyday lives. The ultimate goal? “To make robots smarter, more agile and dexterous, and generally easier to use—more like people,” according to the AI Institute’s mission statement.

Left: Rana el Kaliouby / courtesy photo. Right: How AI interpreted Hao’s headshot.

Cofounder and CEO, Affectiva

Through her company, Affectiva, el Kaliouby effectively created the subset of artificial intelligence known as emotion AI—a machine-learning-based software that can detect and analyze complex human cognitive states. Affectiva is currently using the technology to measure people’s engagement with online advertising, and to gauge the emotional state of drivers and passengers in vehicles to make for a safer and more comfortable experience. In the future, though, the possibilities are limitless.

The Megaphones

Left: Lex Fridman / courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Lexfridman; Right: AI’s reinterpretation.

MIT Research Scientist and Podcast Host

An AI researcher at MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS), Fridman has a YouTube Channel with more than 3.7 million subscribers, a black belt in jujitsu, and an insatiable hunger to learn more about science and technology, which he explores on his eponymous podcast. Fridman doesn’t shy away from controversial guests (Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg), nor does he shy from his own intellectual curiosity, which leads to fascinating conversations about AI’s capabilities.

Left: Kurzweil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Michael Lutch; Right: AI’s reinterpretation

Legendary Inventor and Futurist

Many of the world’s most brilliant minds have hypothesized about technological singularity, a.k.a. the point at which machine intelligence overtakes human intelligence and becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, but only Kurzweil has had the audacity to predict the date of its arrival. Over the course of several books, the Massachusetts resident predicted that machines will pass the Turing Test by 2029, officially surpassing human intelligence, and will achieve technological singularity by 2045.

First published in the print edition of the April 2024 issue as part of an artificial intelligence package headlined, “Boston’s AI Revolution.”

Welcome to the Future, Boston