Since 20-something brothers Haroon and Hamza Choudery immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, from from rural Pakistan in 1998, their lives have been changed by technology in both amazing and devastating ways.
Technology provides a nice living for the brothers: Haroon, 26, has a well-paying AI job at a healthcare company, and Hamza, 24, works at WeWork.
But their uncle has seen the other side.
The Chouderys' uncle used his life savings to finance a New York City taxi medallion in 2013 (which, at the time, cost as much as $1.3 million). But thanks to technology, the ride-share boom left the medallion worth just 20% of its original value, Haroon says.
"As you can imagine, starting from scratch after over two decades of working as a taxi driver had a devastating effect on the trajectory of his life."
This whiplash — technology launching their careers while devastating their elder — also had an effect on Haroon and Hamza. Inspired in part by the experience, the brothers co-founded a nonprofit called AI for Anyone.
The idea behind the AI literacy organization is to use "our privilege to help those that are less privileged avoid getting into situations where their livelihoods are destroyed, whether it be through like automation replacing their jobs or whether it be through automation being designed to accommodate the needs of more affluent and more well off people and not really taken the the underrepresented populations into account when they're making their decisions," Haroon says.
Both in the classroom and online, AI for Anyone teaches students the basics of artificial intelligence, increases awareness of AI's role in society and shows how the technology can be used.
"We had support that really gave us a lot of lucky breaks," Haroon says, referring to the opportunities they were afforded after coming to the US. "We want to ... help give [kids] a lucky break in the form of some knowledge that may help them make a pivot in their lives," he says.
It wasn't just about lucky breaks for Haroon and Hamza. There was a lot of hard work too. But it is true that the brothers have lived some version of the American Dream.
After coming to the US when Haroon was 6 and Hamza was 4, their family lived with nine relatives in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, and later on a poultry farm in Maryland on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Their father worked any number of jobs from baker to taxi driver to tow truck driver.
In 2011, Haroon won a Gates Millennium scholarship, which gave him a full ride (including tuition, housing, food and transportation) to both Penn State for undergrad and to University of California, Berkeley, where he got his masters in information and data science. After college, Haroon did data science work for Mark Cuban Companies and was a technology consultant at Deloitte Consulting. He is now a data scientist at Komodo Health.
Hamza graduated magna cum laude from the University of Maryland. He previously worked at Facebook, and now works in business operations at WeWork.
Today, living in New York City, the brothers could easily spend a couple of dollars on cup of coffee — the same amount their family had to live on for a month in Pakistan. Living in both realities, Hamza says, "has contextualized the poverty and it has also contextualized the success."
And it has been the brothers' "call to action" to launch their education initiative.
In 2017, Haroon, Hamza and their friend Mac McMahon started AI for Anyone with $5,000 of their own money.
The idea was to educate those who might be at risk of having their livelihood affected by artificial intelligence and arm them for the future.
The organization's team goes to schools to present workshops that teach kids who might not learn about AI otherwise, because as important as it is to the future of work, it is not part of a regular high school curriculum.
So far, AI for Anyone has taught approximately 50 workshops, reaching over 55,000 people, according to the Chouderys. It also has a monthly newsletter, All About AI, with over 33,000 subscribers, as well as a new podcast, AI For You. (One episode has an interview with Hod Lipson, a well-renowned professor in the AI space.)
Even the pandemic has not stopped AI for Anyone, as the team has taken their seminars virtual.
The first virtual workshop in April was a partnership with the Mark Cuban Foundation, the billionaire tech entrepreneur's philanthropy, via a connection Haroon made through the work he did at Mark Cuban Companies.
"When COVID-19 hit, Haroon and I reconnected and realized we were both thinking about ways to teach AI in a bite-sized way to kids stuck at home," says Ryan Kline, an associate at Mark Cuban Companies. "AI for Anyone is doing great work in fundamental AI education, reaching wide audiences of young students."
They collaborated to digitize the AI for Anyone workshop. Then if students want to learn more, they can be funneled into the Mark Cuban Foundation's Intro to AI Bootcamps, a collaboration between the Mark Cuban Foundation, Microsoft and Walmart, which was announced in 2019.
Cuban shared about the workshop on LinkedIn.
"We see AI for Anyone as providing a spark for hundreds of students to advance their AI learning, and hope that many AI for Anyone graduates will apply to participate in the Mark Cuban Foundation Bootcamps as we expand nationwide," Kline says.
AI for Anyone is still growing, but the purpose is clear for the founders.
"A.I. for Anyone works [as] one of the most appropriate and most fitting ways for us to use our privilege to give back to those that are less privileged than us," Haroon says.