Ryan Cotterell of Johns Hopkins’ University was named the first Facebook fellow, chosen from more than 800 applicants. Cotterell joins 13 other PhD students granted the esteemed award, each of them chosen for their involvement “in innovative and relevant research” within engineering and computer sciences. The award gives substantial funding for tuition, $5,000 for travel expenses, and a $37,000 annual research stipend for each student.
In the summer of 2018, Cotterell interned at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research Lab focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). For Cotterell, who holds two master’s degrees from John’s Hopkins and specializations in natural language processing, computational linguistics, and machine learning, the internship gave him the freedom to explore the development of equitable AI.
Cotterell says, “The technology we are building with respect for languages is biased. AI systems associate gender with professions, for example, assuming doctors are male. Is sexist language the same across all languages? And as engineers, how do we build an AI system that does not have biases?”
Jason Eisner, a computer science professor advising Cotterell at John’s Hopkins, notes what an incredible opportunity the fellowship was in regards to Cotterell’s career. “Ryan is extremely creative at finding problems from linguistics that machine learning and natural language processing now have a chance of addressing,” says Eisner. “Imagine that you want to stretch a bungee cord, and for 60 years, since the emergence of linguistics, it hasn’t quite reached. Finally, it’s just within reach. Ryan has the strength to finally pull it those last few inches.”
This month, Cotterell is bound for England where he will become a University of Cambridge lecturer.