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  • Katey Meisner

Jeff Clune

Professor and Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert Jeff Clune began conducting experiments when he was a boy and his transcendent thirst for knowledge has secured him a research position with Uber AI Labs. “It is fascinating seeing what AI can do,” Clune said. “Often, it comes up with solutions I never would have dreamed of, and it frequently outsmarts me.” After graduating from Groves High School and the University of Michigan, the assistant professor at the University of Wyoming worked in marketing. “While at my desk, I read an article about a professor at Cornell University who programmed evolution to occur within a computer and evolved robots that could walk around within a computer simulation.” Fascinated by the topic, Clune left his job and traveled the world, exploring and living out of a backpack for 15 months. Toward the end of his travels, he began to think about his career path. “I could not stop thinking about those evolved robots.” Eager to learn more about AI, Clune went to Michigan State University and earned his PhD in computer science. He was then accepted to Cornell University. “I was sitting at a desk in the lab in Cornell where the work had been done, with those very evolved, 3D-printed robots on the shelf next to me,” he said. “I often picked them up and just smiled at my journey.” Two years later, he was developing his own robots and directing the Evolving Artificial Intelligence lab at the University of Wyoming. “I create computational models of brains called neural networks and try to make them as smart as I can,” he said. “Sometimes I create simulations of evolution to investigate under what conditions elevated levels of intelligence evolve.” Clune’s wife also works at the university as a professor of zoology. “We both love being scientists, and enjoy that we get to share what we are passionate about with each other on a daily basis.” Clune was involved in a startup AI company called Geometric Intelligence. The company was recently acquired by Uber. Clune accepted a position as senior research scientist for Uber AI Labs. Details regarding his work with Uber are strictly confidential. “I am on leave (from the university), but retain that title and much of the role, since I continue to run my research group.” In 2017, Clune received the Groves Honor Alumnus Award. He credits teachers from Groves for their invaluable encouragement. “Any success I’ve had is because of four amazing, inspiring, talented, and passionate teachers I had at Groves High School: John Lawson, Susan Mundy, Barbara Shaheen, and Marla Fallucca,” he said. “I also had an amazing fifth grade teacher, Ms. Grunert at Meadow Lake (Elementary).” Free time is sparse for the AI virtuoso, but he enjoys his research and expects to see monumental breakthroughs. “I believe we will create artificial intelligence that surpasses human intelligence, and that there is a chance that it might only take a handful of decades to accomplish that feat. Such an event may well be the most important moment in human history.”

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