Yann LeCun is widely regarded as one of the “godfathers” of AI—but unlike the attire of the famous film gangsters, his bow-tie on Sunday night was an eye-catching shade of red. “I come from a world where corporate attire is a t-shirt and a hoodie, so this is unusual for me,” he told the crowd. “Usually it’s more on the geeky side.”
LeCun was awarded a TIME100 Impact Award on Sunday night in Dubai, in recognition of his achievements in the field over decades leading up to the recent boom in artificial intelligence.
LeCun, who is also a professor at NYU, helped pioneer the convolutional neural network, a type of AI architecture that made use-cases like image recognition possible at unprecedented levels of accuracy.
“Throughout his career, his breakthroughs in AI have led to advancements in everything from moderation of hate speech to automated braking systems in cars, image- and video-recognition, and natural language processing,” said TIME CEO Jess Sibley, who presented LeCun with the award.
“Yann stands out the most because he has never been afraid to speak his mind and go against the grain,” Sibley said of LeCun. “He is outspoken about his optimism for the future; he believes the benefits of AI advancement far outweigh the potential downside, and he thinks we should be sharing technology with everyone and encouraging development and progress.”
LeCun has been Meta’s chief AI scientist for years, but his role took on a new prominence in January when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Meta’s new goal was to create AGI, or artificial general intelligence. LeCun and his team were moved from a research-focused arm of the company into Meta’s “product” organization which is focused on building AI into user-facing tools. “With this change, we elevate the importance of AI research as an essential ingredient to the long-term success of the company and our products,” Chris Cox, Meta’s chief product officer, wrote in a note to staff at the time.
Under LeCun’s influence, Meta’s AI teams have committed to sharing—or open-sourcing—the inner workings of their AI tools, a stark departure from the industry norm. “In the future, our entire information diet is going to be mediated by [AI] systems,” LeCun told TIME ahead of the Dubai award ceremony. “You cannot have this kind of dependency on a proprietary, closed system.”
LeCun says that humans can feel threatened by people smarter than them. But as director of Meta’s AI research lab, he said on stage, he only hires people smarter than him. We should not be scared of AI outsmarting us, he says—we should instead be optimistic that the technology will help humanity prosper.
TIME100 Impact Awards / AI is sponsored by World Government Summit, Museum of the Future, Northern Data Group, and AI71.
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