(AI)llini Initiatives

By Jessie Wang, Staff Writer

From chatbots to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence has progressed exponentially in recent years. University students are at the forefront of such innovation, as research, RSOs and startups utilize the new technology and discover new capabilities in the field.

Ron Arel, sophomore in LAS, started an RSO called AI @ UIUC to expand the opportunities for undergraduate students to work with AI.

“We connect undergraduate students with faculty and grad students to work and publish within the field of AI,” Arel said. “We set up the runway (so) that students … have the support and guidance they need to publish a paper in the field.”

Last fall, Arel was inspired to start AI @ UIUC following his research internship. He hopes to connect students with technology that he believes will define the future.

“I think AI has the power to not only change the market for software engineers … but the world in general,” Arel said. “We are so lucky to be born in a time period where not only are we going to experience that, but (we also) have the chance to build the systems that will do that.”

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This semester is the first official semester for the RSO, and Arel said the club is working on several projects in different fields of AI, including natural language processing, computer vision, federated learning and earth science.

Arel also cited the vast resources available at the University, including faculty, graduate students and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications as being advantageous for the new RSO.

“We have an amazing CS program here — we have an amazing grad school,” Arel said. “Being able to branch those resources from grads to help undergraduates learn more about AI and (be) published in AI research was a big goal.”

Other students, such as Faraz Siddiqi, junior in Media and Engineering, are pursuing their interest in AI by using it to solve problems they’ve encountered.

Siddiqi is a co-founder of Hatch, an AI recruitment startup that brings together engineers and companies.

“Hatch is an AI recruitment company that is redefining the internship search process by providing students a swipe-for-jobs platform that connects a network of software engineers across the country with companies,” Siddiqi said.

Hatch, which plans to launch in August, began when Siddiqi and the other co-founders were searching for internships their freshman year.

“The computer science application process takes a long time to actually get a job,” Siddiqi said. “We’re talking about months and months of applications just being sent out. I spent more effort applying than I did actually preparing for interviews.”

Siddiqi also said that for companies that receive applications, going through hundreds of applications for one position is extremely time consuming.

Hatch addresses these issues by using a series of models where data points in a resume are evaluated against characteristics that a company is looking for. The algorithm then recommends the best-fitting candidates to recruiters.

In the near future, Siddiqi believes AI will change the relationship between developers and how they solve problems.

“AI is redefining the way that we approach problems,” Siddiqi said. “In the next 5-10 years, I personally think that AI will be a prominent tool for developers specifically in the coding world … to build out their products.”


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