By Elaine Dunn | July 2022
Alexandr Wang. Never heard of him? Not a household name (yet), you say? Well, that will change soon enough! You know, the robots are coming … and robots are based on artificial intelligence.
Yes, the next big “invention” after the internet is artificial intelligence.
Wang is CEO and co-owner of San Francisco-based Scale AI, an artificial intelligence data platform that, in addition to collecting, annotating, curating and cleaning up data, it supports the development and monitoring of machine learning models. And, of course, Scale uses powerful technology that enables it to analyze raw data much faster than human analysts.
Much of our existing intelligence has come from satellite imagery. We need to build AI systems to continually monitor sat data, and ultimately stay one step ahead
— Alexandr Wang (@alexandr_wang)
Just like the current richest man in the world Elon Musk, Wang offered to provide datasets and Scale AI platform to AI teams for free working to support Ukraine and NATO (such as figuring out how much damage the Russian bombs are inflicting on Ukraine!).
“Every industry is sitting on huge amounts of data,” Wang said in a February interview with Forbes. “Our goal is to help them unlock the potential of the data and supercharge their businesses with AI.” For example, Scale filters raw data from millions of shipping documents and footage of self-driving cars and for companies such as Flexport and General Motors. Forbes also reported that among the 300 companies Scale works with, including Airbnb, Lyft, Pinterest and Samsung, there are three contracts worth $110 million to help America’s Air Force and Army employ artificial intelligence. Not bad for a 6-year-old company!
Wang was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the town where the U.S. developed its atomic bomb! Both his physicist parents worked at weapons projects for the U.S. military at Los Alamos National Lab.
He taught himself how to code via the internet and began participating in national math and coding competitions as a kid. In sixth grade, he signed up for his first math competition where the prize was a trip to Disneyland. Although he did not win the coveted prize, he still managed a visit to the Magic Kingdom.
At 17, before graduating from Los Alamos High School, he was already getting job offers from Silicon Valley. He started working at Addepar as a software engineer before working full-time coding at Quora, the question-and-answer website that empowers people through shared knowledge, where he met Lucy Guo, who would become Scale AI’s co-founder in 2016.
At 19, after a brief stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying machine learning, he dropped out. Instead, he sought and obtained funding from Y Combinator to launch Scale AI with Guo, telling his parents it would be a “temporary” summer gig. Despite what he has achieved, he said his parents still feel disappointed that he dropped out. But, he told a start-up magazine, “If you know what you want to do you don’t need a college degree. All that is needed is having good skills.”
What got Wang started was while at MIT, he wanted to build a camera inside his fridge so he knew what groceries he was running low on. “Even for that I just didn't have any of the data to make it work … there was this really big hole or problem that needed to be solved for AI to actually reach its full potential. That was the inspiration behind starting the company,” he said, “… you couldn't build incredible AI if you treated data as an afterthought, because the issue with how AI works is that it's very much a garbage in, garbage out kind of paradigm. It's really pivotal to the success of any AI effort to … just being able to manage all of your data with an organization, so we built a product called Nucleus to solve that. We also built models as a service product where we allow customers the ability to easily build AI on top of this data foundation that we've laid for them.”
In an interview with The Business of Business, Wang says he sees his biggest challenges as “how we can continue growing our company and making sure that we build a great company for everybody who's a part of it, and making sure that we're working for everyone who’s in our ecosystem … We're in the world of AI and AI has just moved so fast. Making sure that we're always delivering products and delivering value to our customers in cutting edge ways to keep up with how the industry has developed, that's been a really big focus of mine as well.”
When the company started in 2019, its name was a joke. It had only three employees, needing plenty of “scaling up.” But the company grew rapidly. By March 2021, it had 300 employees and more than 30,000 contract employees, generating an estimated $100 million in revenue. In 2022, Scale was valued at $7.3 billion. Wang’s estimated 15% stake in the company is worth around a billion, making him the world’s youngest self-made billionaire!
And what does this geek do besides coding and making money? He plays violin. His other interests include writing, hiking, programming, reading Nietzsche, Sartre and Kierkegaard. And he is fluent in Chinese and French, besides English.
What of co-founder Lucy Guo? She’s the world’s second richest self-made woman after Kyle Jenner. Guo left Scale in 2018, but still holds a 6% stake at the company. In April this year, she launched a tech start-up and continues to work out a lot, approximately 5.5 hours each day!
So much for the life of the rich and (not yet) famous.