Free artificial intelligence camp seeks applications from Philly students


Twenty high schoolers in Philadelphia will have the opportunity this fall to learn about artificial intelligence as part of a free program financed by billionaire Mark Cuban’s foundation.

Applications are now being accepted for the AI Bootcamp, which targets girls, students of color and young people from low- and middle-income families. The program is being hosted locally by CSL Behring, a King of Prussia-based biopharmaceutical company.

“We don’t want them to think AI is something that other people do,” said John Thompson, CSL Behring’s global head of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence. “We want them to realize that they can be part of the AI future, that they can have a career in advanced analytics and AI.”

Participants, who must be in 9th through 12th grades, will gather for five hours on four consecutive Saturdays from Oct. 22 to Nov. 12 for interactive lessons and lab exercises.

Thompson, who was involved in building early machine learning networks at IBM, will be leading the Philadelphia camp.

He said one of the initial projects will be building a chatbot — the virtual assistants that respond to questions and prompts. A later challenge will be creating a voice for Bumblebee, a robot character in the “Transformers” universe.

“It’s important because these kids are living with AI every day,” Thompson told Metro. “They talk to Siri. They get recommendations from Netflix. They get tailored content from Facebook.”

A student participates in one of last year’s AI Bootcamps.Mark Cuban Foundation

To make travel easier for students, CSL Behring’s tentative plan is to hold the camp in-person in University City, possibly on Drexel University’s campus, Thompson said.

The Mark Cuban Foundation, run by the entrepreneur, Dallas Mavericks owner and “Shark Tank” investor, recruits local companies to run the AI Bootcamps, which started several years ago.

In the fall, there will be 30 camps across the country, including a program in Atlantic City, according to the foundation.

CSL Behring, which hosted a bootcamp last year, conducts outreach to local nonprofits and schools, and the foundation sifts through the applications with the targeted demographics in mind.

“We look for students that have a passion about technology or that would like to learn more about what they could do in a career based around technology,” Carli Lidiak, of the Mark Cuban Foundation, said in an email.

No prior experience or knowledge of AI or computer science is necessary. To apply, go to The deadline for submissions is Sept. 1, and parents can also fill out an application form for their children.

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