Vanderbilt’s Kunda named to MIT’s ‘Innovators Under 35’ list

For her work in the software field, Vanderbilt University computer science professor Maithilee Kunda has been recognized as a visionary on the MIT Technology Review annual list of Innovators Under 35 released today.

The global media company recognizes exceptionally talented technologists whose work has great potential to transform the world. This list has been published for more than a decade.

Maithilee Kunda

Kunda, an assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering, works on algorithms for artificial intelligence that emulate human visual thinking, or thinking with images rather than symbols and words. She was first inspired to do research on visual thinking and AI when she read the book Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science who is also on the autism spectrum.

“What fascinates me is how we can use our brain’s visual systems not just to recognize things in the world, but also to build internal visual images that help us reason through problems,” says Kunda, who aims to design AI systems with these kinds of visual thinking capabilities. Using such systems she expects to ultimately enable engineers to design more complex machines, surgeons to perform more difficult procedures, and students to learn abstract ideas.

Kunda also sees her AI research as a way of helping to understand how people with autism and other cognitive conditions think, which can lead to improved tools for assessment and education.

She holds a B.S. in mathematics with computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and she currently directs the laboratory for Artificial Intelligence and Visual Analogical Systems.

“Over the years, we’ve had success in choosing young innovators whose work has been profoundly influential on the direction of human affairs,” says editor in chief and publisher Jason Pontin. “Previous winners include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the cofounders of Google; Mark Zuckerberg, the cofounder of Facebook; and Jonathan Ive, the chief designer of Apple. We’re proud of our selections and the variety of achievements they celebrate, and we’re proud to add Maithilee Kunda to this prestigious list.”

This year’s honorees will be featured online at starting today, and in the September/October print magazine, which hits newsstands worldwide on August 29. They will appear in person at the upcoming EmTech MIT conference October 18–20 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering