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After hearing from AI executives, scientists, and leaders during the Transform 2021 virtual conference, it is clear innovation in the field abounds. The AI Innovation Awards caps off a week of celebrating companies and individuals pushing the AI boundaries to discover new capabilities.

The third annual AI Innovation Awards honors people and companies engaged in compelling and influential work in five areas: natural language processing and understanding, business applications, edge innovation, Startup Spotlight, and AI for Good.

Natural language processing/understanding

Many things become possible when machines understand the languages people speak and write. Among those gains, smart assistants can handle more tasks across diverse industries.

Hugging Face received the Innovation in Natural Language Process/Understanding Award for 2021 for the team’s work in democratizing NLP.


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Business applications

While research is essential, the true impact of AI comes from practical applications tackling real-world problems.

Pilot received the Innovation in Business Applications Award for 2021 for making the back office experience better for small businesses without deep finance teams. The software’s predictive insights help small businesses make better budgeting and spending decisions.

Edge AI

Edge AI is going to become even more important with the boom in the internet of things and near-ubiquitous network capabilities promised by 5G.

SambaNova Systems received the Innovation in Edge Award for 2021 for developing systems that run AI and data-intensive apps from the datacenter to the edge.

Startup Spotlight

The Startup Spotlight focused on companies that work with AI, have raised $35 million or less in funding, have been in operation for no more than two years, and have the potential to make a significant contribution to the field in the years to come.

Parity received the Startup Spotlight Award for 2021 for its tools and services designed to identify and remove bias from AI systems. And after a week of deep conversations about the importance of ethics and responsible AI, it’s clear this is going to be a very important area to focus on.

AI for Good

AI for Good recognizes AI technology, the application of AI, and advocacy or activism in the field of AI that protects or improves human lives or operates to fight injustice, improve equality, and better serve humanity.

Folding@Home, based out of the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, with support from its other main labs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Temple University, received the AI for Good Award for 2021. By employing crowdsourced computer-processing power to help run molecular calculations for diseases, Folding@Home helps scientists study how proteins “misfold” and cause disease and develop therapies for the diseases based on the research. Folding@Home solved some basic problems in the research for SAR-CoV-2, helping scientists in their work for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Innovation and influential work

The nominees were selected by a committee consisting of Vijoy Pandey, the VP of engineering and CTO of cloud and distributed systems at Cisco; Raffael Marty, senior VP of product and cybersecurity at ConnectWise and the former chief research and intelligence officer at Forcepoint; and Stacey Shulman, VP of the IoT Group and general manager of Health, Life Sciences, and Emerging Technologies at Intel. Each of the nominees is a trailblazer involved in influential work in AI, and there will be more opportunities to hear their stories in the years to come.

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