Imad is currently studying for his Masters in AI and Applied Mathematics at ENS Paris-Saclay.
He was born in a village in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains and was one of only 90 students in the region specialising in mathematics selected to take the prestigious two-year classe préparatoire aux grands écoles (Higher School Preparatory Classes), leading up to entrance exams for France’s top engineering schools. He now holds a BSc in mathematics from Lille University and a Masters degree in General Engineering, majoring in Data Science, from Ecole Centrale de Lille. Outside of his studies he loves to explore landscapes on foot, once hiking 180 kilometres in ten days.
I’ve been inspired by my mentor and others from underrepresented backgrounds who are trying to solve problems in their own communities. They have inspired me to reflect on what we have and what we can do.”
In conversation with Imad
What was your path to ENS Paris-Saclay like?
I was born in a small village in the centre of Morocco in the Atlas Mountains. There were three families in the same apartment. My dad was a builder and found a job in the north, so we moved. I studied there until high school when I moved to Tangier for the classe préparatoire aux grands écoles.
In Morocco, whenever I moved up a level, I felt as if everyone was ahead of me; we were poor and they had advantages I didn’t have. I learnt to accept this, and to be critical of myself so I could improve.
What area of AI are you most interested in?
I’m mostly interested in research about the interaction between humans and AI. I want to learn more about the decisions made by AI so that we can make it fair and responsible. My internships have been focused on problems that help me understand this area. My next one is at a digital advertising platform where I’ll be looking at reinforcement learning, a form of AI where the bot learns by experience.
Why is fairness and responsibility in AI important to you?
It’s a really good cause for several reasons. We need AI to be focused on solving much harder problems in developing countries, in areas like healthcare and water management. DeepMind and the scholarship programme can help this by inspiring people like me from underrepresented countries to use AI to tackle these problems.
What kind of challenges could AI help to address?
In Morocco, we never had enough doctors in our hospitals - people could wait for hours to be seen. I know that with AI, we can do much better. If we can use AI to carry out the more repetitive tasks and free up the doctors, we can optimise the process and cut waiting times for treatment.
Another problem is water. Many cities, including those in Morocco, experience drought. I hope we can use AI to optimise the consumption of water, similar to how it's been done in France with water and electricity.
How has your experience with your mentor been?
I have been inspired by DeepMind’s researchers: by my mentor and others from underrepresented backgrounds who are trying to solve problems in their own communities. They have inspired me to reflect on what we have and what we can do. They have inspired me to take the initiative.
I volunteered to help businesses in my hometown in north Morocco, doing basic data analysis to show how it can solve problems. Also, my mentor gave me the courage to include some of the big tech companies when applying for my next internship. I got many offers and he helped me pick the internship that was right for my career!
What advice would you give someone like you who is thinking of applying to one of the universities in the programme, and who wants to be a DeepMind scholar?
You should take care over the application - clearly set out the path you want to take, and what your expectations are. If your path is clear and you’re highly motivated, you have a good chance of success. Everyone who is eligible should apply! For me it has been a wonderful experience.