California – The Global Hub of AI Innovation

Isaac Ward, 2020 Fulbright Future Scholar, University of Southern California

My last two years in Los Angeles on a Fulbright Scholarship have been transformative to say the least. As a researcher interested in Artificial Intelligence (AI), I’ve found the United States to be home to an abundance of educational resources and renowned experts in the field.

During my time in Southern California, I immersed myself in a vibrant academic community at the University of Southern California, and attended lectures, conferences, and seminars with industry and research leaders. That’s perhaps the most important thing about the Fulbright experience: it’s local. Meeting collaborators, experts, and peers in-person, shaking their hands, and sitting down for a lively discussion of their work has allowed me to forge strong international relationships. Relationships that will last a lifetime.

Simply put, the Fulbright Scholarship program has put me in proximity to the right people and places, and given me the training and opportunity to make a real impact.

But the Fulbright Scholarship affords much more than academic and career opportunities: it’s been an incredible personal and cultural experience. Living in America provided me with the chance to broaden my horizons and mind. Growing up in Perth, I experienced the kind of quietness that can only come from a city isolated physically from the hustle and bustle of the greater world. In Los Angeles I experienced quite the opposite! LA is home to a diverse and ambitious people. It’s busy, loud, and ripe with opportunity. The cultural experience of living in one of the most populous megacities on the planet is one that I will cherish, and which I’m certain will benefit me in my future endeavors.

As someone with a keen interest in space exploration, two highlights of my time in the US included researching the application of AI in aiding lunar astronauts at NASA Johnson Space Center (on behalf of USC), and working on AI for Mars rover image classification at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. These are opportunities that you can only find in the US. The hands-on experience has been invaluable, and I look forward to applying my knowledge in Australia’s burgeoning space industry back home.

Overall, my experience in the Fulbright Scholarship program has been nothing short of incredible. For those interested in STEM and AI work, America is a hub of innovation, and the Fulbright Scholarship provides a unique pathway to get involved.

I’ll remember this time fondly, and I look forward to continued collaboration with friends and colleagues that I’ve met in the US.