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Fast Company: Van Jones

AI jobs are a route out of poverty for urban youth

Van Jones is posing for selfies with young fans after a conference last week in Mountain View, California, on artificial intelligence and employment opportunities. I’m supposed to interview him, once he can break away. But every time he tries, another earnest face turns to him, and he’s pulled back for one more photo.

Maybe best known as an analyst and host on CNN, the Oakland-based Jones says his primary job is being volunteer president of Dream Corps–a multifaceted organization promoting job opportunities for urban and minority youth, prison population reduction, and political dialogue. “Our job is to close prison doors and open doors of opportunity,” says Jones, always ready with a catchy turn of phrase–as well a “huh!” or guffaw for emphasis.

The July 17 conference, the Summit on Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Communities, kicked off a collaboration between Dream Corps and AI4ALL–a youth education program founded by artificial intelligence pioneer (and Chinese immigrant) Fei-Fei Li. The head of AI for Google Cloud, Li also runs Stanford University’s AI Lab and Vision Lab. In 2015, she started an AI summer camp for high school girls at Stanford, which grew into AI4ALL. Formalized as a nonprofit organization in 2017, it now operates out of six universities–targeting girls and minority and low-income children.

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