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Business & Innovation

10 Black pioneers in A.I. featured in TIME Magazine’s TIME100 A.I.

todayMarch 5, 2024

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10 Black pioneers in A.I. featured in TIME Magazine's TIME100 A.I.

Within the dynamic and ever-changing realm of artificial intelligence (AI), a cadre of Black innovators is making remarkable progress, steering the direction of AI technology toward a future that is inclusive and equitable for all. Highlighted by TIME magazine in its TIME100 AI list for 2023, ten Black pioneers are at the helm of this pivotal shift, with an impressive representation of nine women among them. Their contributions are pivotal, marking them as standout figures in the AI domain.

Despite the significant impact of these leaders, Black or African American professionals constitute only about 10.2% of AI specialists in the United States. This underrepresentation underscores a critical issue within the AI sector, where the scarcity of Black voices in AI development and application raises concerns. Such a diversity gap can inadvertently foster the continuation of biases and discrimination, underscoring the importance of broadening representation to include more Black perspectives in AI for the technology to benefit and reflect the diversity of society truly.

Pelonomi Moiloa

Pelonomi Moiloa is a distinguished figure in artificial intelligence (AI), known for her leadership as the CEO and Co-Founder of Lelapa AI. With a background in biomedical and electrical engineering, Moiloa has dedicated her career to advancing AI research and development, focusing on creating solutions that are by Africans, for Africans. Her journey into AI was not initially planned; her academic pursuits at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa led her to discover her passion for the field.

Moiloa’s expertise spans over eight years in the data science domain, where she has led data science teams in developing machine learning applications, particularly within the finance industry. Her work at Lelapa AI is a testament to her commitment to leveraging AI for social good, aiming to address and solve challenges unique to the African continent.

Stephanie Dinkins

Stephanie Dinkins is a transmedia artist and professor at Stony Brook University, holding the Kusama Endowed Chair in Art. She is renowned for her work at the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI), art, and social justice, creating experiences that spark dialogue about race, gender, aging, and our future histories. Dinkins’ work in AI and other mediums uses emerging technologies and social collaboration to work toward technological ecosystems based on care and social equity. Her art practice employs lens-based practices, emerging technologies, and community engagement to confront questions of bias in AI, consciousness, data sovereignty, and social equity.

One of her notable projects is “Not the Only One,” where she trained an AI on the narratives of three generations of Black women to give it cultural roots and a deep history. This project reflects her deep interest in how algorithmic systems impact communities of color and society. Dinkins’ experiments with AI have led her to recognize that the stories, myths, and cultural perspectives we hold and share form and inform society and have done so for millennia. She believes our stories are our algorithms and that we must value, grow, respect, and collaborate with each other’s stories (data) to build care and broadly compassionate values into the technological ecosystems that increasingly support our future.

Kate Kallot

Kate Kallot is an influential figure in artificial intelligence and machine learning, having held significant roles at major tech companies such as Intel, Arm, and NVIDIA. Recognizing the critical gap in reliable and trustworthy data in Africa—a continent with vast resources yet contributing only 3% to ‌global GDP—Kallot founded Amini Corp in late 2022. Her venture is dedicated to addressing ‌data scarcity in Africa, facilitating capital investment, promoting climate resilience, and accelerating regional economic development opportunities. Amini Corp’s mission is to provide the data to measure climate change impact and support the continent’s growth.

Under Kallot’s leadership as CEO and Founder, Amini Corp is leveraging AI and satellite technology to fill the environmental data gap in Africa. The company has recently secured $2 million in pre-seed funding in an oversubscribed round led by Pale Blue Dot, a European climate tech fund. Investors and partners have recognized the company’s ambition and expertise, with Kallot stating that Amini is building the “single source of truth for environmental data across Africa.” 

Linda Dounia Rebeiz

Linda Dounia Rebeiz is a distinguished artist and designer from Dakar, Senegal, whose innovative work delves into the philosophical and environmental implications of technocapitalism. Her artistry is notably recognized for its integration of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly through generative adversarial networks (GANs). GANs are neural-net architectures that enable Rebeiz to train AI to generate art, allowing her to explore and critique the biases and limitations within digital technologies.

Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson is a prominent figure in the intersection of science, technology, and society, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI). She served as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director. She oversaw the release of the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, which, although not legally binding, provides a framework for AI builders and policymakers to ensure AI is used responsibly and ethically.

Nelson’s work in AI policy aims to ensure that AI serves the public good and does not simply benefit the tech industry. She emphasizes the importance of AI in providing economic security and meaningful jobs while also being cautious about the potential for AI to disrupt employment..

Richard Mathenge

Richard Mathenge is a notable figure in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly for his role in improving the safety and reliability of AI systems. He gained recognition for his work with OpenAI’s GPT model, where he led a team of Kenyan workers at the outsourcing company Sama to train the ChatGPT chatbot to avoid generating inappropriate content such as hate speech, violence, and sexual abuse descriptions. This work was essential in refining the AI technology that ChatGPT was built upon, which had the tendency to produce racist and other types of inappropriate content due to being trained on vast amounts of internet text.

Mathenge’s team spent months reading and classifying various examples of toxic material to train ChatGPT to filter it out. Despite the importance of their work, the conditions under which they worked were challenging, with reports of underpayment—less than $2 per hour—and exposure to traumatic content that took a toll on their mental health.

Joy Buolamwini

Joy Buolamwini is a Ghanaian-American-Canadian computer scientist, digital activist, and Algorithmic Justice League (AJL) founder. Her work is centered at the MIT Media Lab, where she focuses on challenging biases within decision-making software through art, advocacy, and research. Buolamwini’s early fascination with technology led her to teach herself various programming languages at a young age, and her academic journey took her through prestigious institutions such as the Georgia Institute of Technology, Jesus College at the University of Oxford, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she completed her PhD,

Buolamwini’s research has significantly impacted the field of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly in highlighting and addressing racial and gender biases in facial recognition technologies. Her discovery that facial recognition software didn’t detect her dark skin unless she wore a white mask sparked her interest in algorithmic bias, a concept she calls the “coded gaze.” This term describes the inherent biases and preferences programmed into AI systems by their creators.

Abeba Birhane

Abeba Birhane is a prominent figure in artificial intelligence (AI), recognized for her influential work and critical insights into the ethical dimensions of AI and technology. With a background in cognitive science, Birhane has carved a niche for herself by addressing crucial issues that intersect technology, ethics, and society. Her journey into AI research was sparked by her realization of a significant gap in the field, particularly around the ethical implications of AI technologies.

Birhane’s work critically examines the underlying biases and ethical considerations in AI development, emphasizing the importance of accountability and the societal impacts of technology. She has been vocal about the concept of “digital colonialism,” highlighting how big tech companies’ algorithms can perpetuate biases and inequalities, effectively embedding opinions within code. This perspective sheds light on the often-overlooked consequences of AI and the need for a more responsible and inclusive approach to technology development.

Timnit Gebru

Timnit Gebru is a prominent figure in artificial intelligence (AI), particularly known for her work on AI ethics. She co-authored a significant paper on AI ethics, highlighting the biases present in large language models and arguing that these biases resulted from a deliberate choice to prioritize speed over safety. This work led to her controversial departure from Google in 2020, where she co-led the ethical AI team. Google claimed she resigned, while Gebru maintains she was fired after refusing to retract her name from the paper.

Following her exit from Google, Gebru founded the Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR), where she serves as the executive director. DAIR is dedicated to interdisciplinary AI research that challenges the norms seen in Big Tech companies. The institute focuses on two main areas: examining the tech industry’s reliance on underpaid and precarious labor, particularly from the Global South, and researching the ideological roots of technologists working on artificial general intelligence. Gebru and her colleagues have coined the acronym TESCREAL to describe ‌ideologies that have links to pseudosciences like eugenics and may lead to tolerating harmful means for achieving technological ends.

Inioluwa Deborah Raji

Inioluwa Deborah Raji is a prominent figure in artificial intelligence (AI), recognized for her contributions to AI ethics. Her work is driven by a passion for making AI ethics more practical, aiming to translate high-level ethical principles into actionable practices within the technology sector.

Raji’s journey in AI took a decisive turn when she moved away from the startup ecosystem to concentrate on AI research. This shift was motivated by her experiences and a growing concern about how AI companies implement and manage ethical considerations in their technologies. Her research focuses on AI’s societal impacts, particularly on fairness and accountability issues in machine learning systems.


The work of these innovators is a clarion call for the AI community to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. By doing so, we can ensure that AI technologies are advanced, ethical, responsible, and reflective of the rich tapestry of human experiences. The journey towards a more inclusive AI future is ongoing, and the contributions of these Black pioneers serve as both inspiration and a roadmap for how we can achieve a technology landscape that benefits everyone. 

Their achievements remind us that the future of AI is not just about the technology itself but about the people it serves and the voices that shape its development. As we look to the future, let us commit to amplifying diverse voices in AI, fostering an environment of inclusivity, and ensuring that the benefits of AI are accessible to all, regardless of race, gender, or geography


Written by: Tarik Moody

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