Every year at the Symposium on Educational Advances in Artificial Intelligence (EAAI), the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) awards the AAAI/EAAI Patrick Henry Winston Outstanding Educator Award, widely considered the highest honor in the field of AI education. This year's recipients are Brown CS University Professor Michael Littman and his longtime Georgia Tech collaborator, Charles Isbell, now of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In particular, the award committee noted their “innovative teaching of AI and machine learning through online courses reaching many thousands of students and through creative, entertaining outreach to the general public”. In recognition of the award, Michael and Charles will deliver an invited talk at EAAI 2024.
Created in 2016, the award honors a person or group of people who have made major contributions to AI education that provide long-lasting benefits to the AI community and society as a whole. Examples include innovating teaching methods, service to the AI education community, generating pedagogical resources, designing curricula, and educating students outside of higher education venues (or the general public) about AI. Prior recipients include Brown CS alum Peter Norvig, now a Distinguished Education Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI.
Charles and Michael's nomination cites their numerous online courses and outreach efforts. The extensive list includes free courses available through Udacity that have been taken by over 100,000 students, an “Overfitting” music video (based on Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" and featuring a student a cappella group) that's received roughly 120,000 views on YouTube and won the “Shakey” Award for Most Entertaining Video at AAAI 2014, and an eleven-episode series on computer science in Westworld, a popular television program.
The nomination also noted that Charles and Michael's focus on education and outreach is especially impressive in light of their prolific research, and that their commitment to education, outreach, diversity, and the artificial intelligence community is long-standing, a model for AI educators.
Associate Professor Matthew E. Taylor of the University of Alberta, Canada, a previous chair of the EAAI conference, cites the pair's success at addressing the most salient points of different topics and explaining them clearly. "It is very clear that Charles and Michael are enjoying themselves when they teach," he writes. "You can hear how much fun they're having, and it’s contagious....I often recommend Charles and Michael’s RL class as the best place to start learning about RL. Their masterful presentation of the RL and ML online classes, as well as their years of traditional teaching at multiple top universities, makes it easy for me to unreservedly recommend them for this unique award in AI education."
Michael received his doctorate from Brown CS in 1996 and has been a member of the faculty since 2012. Currently co-directing Brown's Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative, he works mainly in reinforcement learning, but has done research in machine learning, game theory, computer networking, partially observable Markov decision process solving, computer solving of analogy problems, and other areas.
Michael currently serves as the National Science Foundation's Division Director for Information and Intelligent Systems. He has earned multiple awards for teaching and research and has served on the editorial boards for The Journal of Machine Learning Research and The Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research. He served as General Chair of the International Conference on Machine Learning and Program Chair of the AAAI Conference in 2013. He's also an AAAI Fellow and was general chair of the Reinforcement Learning and Decision Making Conference, held last year in Providence. He is an ACM Fellow and was an AAAS Leshner Fellow; recently, he received the AIJ Classic Paper Award at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence.
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