How We Chose the TIME100 Most Influential People in AI

5 minute read

What is unique about AI is also what is most feared and celebrated—its ability to match some of our own skills, and then to go further, accomplishing what humans cannot. AI’s capacity to model itself on human behavior has become its defining feature. Yet behind every advance in machine learning and large language models are, in fact, people—both the often obscured human labor that makes large language models safer to use, and the individuals who make critical decisions on when and how to best use this technology. Reporting on people and influence is what TIME does best. That led us to the TIME100 AI.

Across the past century, the cover of TIME has reflected the forces shaping society; that has been true this year as well. Generative AI—a type of AI that can produce text, images, video, and other content, the best-known example being ChatGPT—first landed on our cover in February. “This shift marks the most important technological breakthrough since social media,” TIME correspondents Andrew R. Chow and Billy Perrigo wrote then. In March, TIME published an essay from AI safety advocate Eliezer Yudkowsky that prompted discussion in the White House press briefing room about the Biden Administration’s plan on AI. By May, we gathered a selection of voices to analyze the potential risks presented by this explosive new technology. That issue, with a cover asking if AI could mark the end of humanity, went online just days after hundreds of leading AI scientists and CEOs released a startling joint statement: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

Among the signatories was OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, perhaps the most powerful person in AI today. For a June cover story announcing the TIME100 Companies, our annual list of the most influential companies in the world, he told former TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal that he was at once “very optimistic, and prepared for things to go super wrong at any point.” By that point, OpenAI’s ChatGPT had already become one of the fastest-growing new products in the history of technology. For a July cover story, Billy traveled to Karnataka, India, to interview Manu Chopra, CEO of startup Karya, about the new model he is piloting to help the rural poor benefit from the AI boom.

It becomes apparent why journalists at TIME have tried to underscore that the most important thing to understand about AI is just how fast it’s growing. (Will Henshall’s recent TIME story charted the leaps and bounds.) “The level of innovation I’m seeing now is stronger than I’ve ever seen in my entire life by orders of magnitude,” former Google CEO Eric Schmidt told senior correspondent Vera Bergengruen in an interview for this issue. “I’ve been through time-sharing and the PC industry, the web revolution, the Unix revolution, and Linux, and Facebook, and Google. And this is growing faster than the sum of all of them.”

TIME’s most knowledgeable editors and reporters spent months fielding recommendations from dozens of sources, to put together hundreds of nominations that we whittled down to the group you see today. We interviewed nearly all of the individuals on this list to get their perspective on the path of AI today. “We wanted to highlight the industry leaders at the forefront of the AI boom, individuals outside these companies who are grappling with profound ethical questions around the uses of AI, and the innovators around the world who are trying to use AI to address social challenges,” says executive editor Naina Bajekal, who led the effort.

The members of the TIME100 AI span 18-year-old Sneha Revanur, who recently met with the Biden Administration as part of her work leading Encode Justice, a youth-led movement organizing for ethical AI, to 76-year-old Geoffrey Hinton, who left his position at Google this spring to speak about the dangers of the technology he helped bring into existence. We are excited to bring you the many different stories represented by these individuals and the transformation they are helping lead. (TIME’s owners and co-chairs Marc and Lynne Benioff have invested in AI startup companies; Salesforce, where Marc Benioff is CEO, has invested in AI companies as well. We have disclosed these investments where relevant.)

This group of 100 individuals is in many ways a map of the relationships and power centers driving the development of AI. They are rivals and regulators, scientists and artists, advocates and executives—the competing and cooperating humans whose insights, desires, and flaws will shape the direction of an increasingly influential technology. To that end, we are pleased to include in this issue former TIME Editor Walter Isaacson’s exclusive reporting on Elon Musk’s fight for the future of AI. That compelling saga is taken from Walter’s much-anticipated new biography of Musk, which, as you’ll see, features other members of the TIME100 AI in prominent roles.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Sam Jacobs at