Fast Five with Hugh Williams

Hugh Williams is the co-founder of CS in Schools, a proud supporter of the Day of AI and an organisation that is creating sustainable change in digital technology education in Australia. 

We put these Fast Five questions to Hugh about AI.

Why is AI important in your career?

I’ve used AI throughout my career to solve problems that humans can’t solve, whether it’s because there are too many things to consider in coming up with the right answer or because answers are needed faster than a human can solve the problem. One of the first problems I used AI to solve was answering image search queries in the Bing search engine. Image search is hard because people type in words such as “dog” or “Taylor Swift” and want pictures as answers, and there are thousands of people every second who want those answers. We built a sophisticated AI system to answer those queries and I kept working on that for over five years. I then went on to use AI to solve many other problems, particularly at eBay and Microsoft.

What aspect of AI are you most interested in or passionate about?

I’ve always been interested in how AI can be used to make peoples’ lives better. I enjoy the cycle of creating an AI-driven solution, testing how it works in practice, and continually iterating and improving the solution. I’ve found that AI-driven solutions make occasional mistakes when it comes to the rare or difficult things that people do, and it’s super interesting to understand those problems and try and solve them. I remember having to work hard to make eBay’s search engine smarter when new products were released by companies such as Apple — when Apple first released the iPad, the search engine thought people were searching for it were looking for iPods!

In your daily life, what are the positive impacts of AI that you see playing out in our society?

AI is everywhere today. It’s helping you in ways you don’t always realise – for example, its detecting possible credit card fraud, it’s filtering dangerous emails from your inbox, it’s helping you navigate when you travel, and it’s powering most of the apps you use. It’s working hard to make your experiences better and to save you time, money, and effort.

Why do you think it is important to empower young Australians with access to AI education?

Everything is being changed by AI. Traditionally, AI has been used by tech companies, but that’s really changed in the past 10 years. For example, education, health, banking, insurance, and governments are all using AI to build better solutions for their customers. Students today need to be equipped with an understanding of what AI can do, how it can be responsibly used, and where it’s headed because it’ll affect just about every career that they might choose in the future.

What advice would you give young Australians who want to learn more about and eventually work in AI?

Go for it! You can work on many of the world’s most pressing problems using smart solutions based on data and AI, and maybe even solve something that could change the direction of millions or billions of peoples’ lives! Imagine if you’re someone who solves one of the super hard problems in health, climate, or energy! It’s pretty incredible.

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