Using Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Humanity

By Annette Pinder

Whether preventing explosions on electrical grids, spotting patterns among past crimes, or optimizing critically ill patient care, Duke University computer scientist Cynthia Rudin is using artificial intelligence (AI) to make decisions that deeply affect people’s lives and help society. Rudin received a $1 million award for her efforts to benefit humanity from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), the most prestigious award in AI, and similar to world-renowned recognitions such as the Nobel Prize and Turing Award.

Rudin pioneered scientific work in real world applications, such as social justice and diagnosing medical issues, serving as a role model for researchers and practitioners. One project, a collaboration with Con Edison, the energy company responsible for powering New York City, uses machine learning to predict manholes at risk of exploding due to degrading and overloaded electrical circuitry.

Rudin’s techniques use predictive models that humans understand. The formulas are complex and sophisticated, but small enough to be written in a few lines on an index card. She has applied the model for projects that include predicting patients most at risk of having destructive seizures after a stroke or other brain injury, commonalities between crimes to determine if they are committed by the same criminals, and whether new crimes are related to past crimes. Rudin’s work impacts decisions regarding criminal justice, healthcare including medical imaging, power grid maintenance, financial loans, and more.

“I have had enormous admiration for Cynthia from very early on, for her spirit of independence, her determination, and her relentless pursuit of true understanding of anything new she encountered in classes and papers,” said Ingrid Daubechies, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering, a world preeminent researcher in signal processing, and one of Rudin’s PhD advisors at Princeton University.

“I could not be more thrilled to see Cynthia’s work honored in this way,” added Rudin’s second PhD advisor, Microsoft Research partner Robert Schapire, whose work on “boosting” helped lay the foundations for modern machine learning. “For her inspiring and insightful research, her independent thinking has led her in directions very different from the mainstream, and for her longstanding attention to issues and problems of practical, societal importance.”

Rudin received her undergraduate in mathematical physics and music theory from University at Buffalo, and a PhD in applied and computational mathematics at Princeton. She was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at NYU, an associate research scientist at Columbia University, and associate professor of statistics at MIT, before joining Duke’s faculty in 2017, holding appointments in computer science, electrical and computer engineering, biostatistics and bioinformatics, and statistical science.

Rudin is grateful to AAAI and Squirrel AI for creating this award that she calls a game-changer in using AI to benefit society. Learn more at

Of note, is that Cynthia’s father, Stephen Rudin PhD, FAAPM, FSPIE, DABR, is a SUNY Distinguished Professor, and the Director of Radiation Physics at Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Rudin has been instrumental in improving medical imaging methods in vascular medicine.