‘The Worlds I See’ by AI visionary Fei-Fei Li ’99 selected as Princeton Pre-read

Trailblazing computer scientist Fei-Fei Li’s memoir “The Worlds I See: Curiosity, Exploration, and Discovery at the Dawn of AI” has been selected as the next Princeton Pre-read.

The book, which connects Li’s personal story as a young immigrant and scientist with the origin stories of artificial intelligence and human-centered AI, was named to technology book lists for 2023 by the Financial Times and former President Barack Obama.

President Christopher L. Eisgruber, who began the Pre-read tradition in 2013, said he hopes Li’s story will inspire incoming first-year students. After reading the book over the summer, members of the Class of 2028 will discuss the “The Worlds I See” with Li and Eisgruber at the Pre-read Assembly during Orientation.

“Wherever your interests lie in the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, or engineering, I hope that Professor Li’s example will inspire and encourage you as you explore the joys of learning at Princeton, a place that Professor Li calls ‘a paradise for the intellect,’” Eisgruber said in a forward written for the Pre-read edition of the book.

Li is the inaugural Sequoia Capital Professor in Computer Science at Stanford University and co-director of Stanford’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence Institute. Last year, she was named to the TIME100 list of the most influential people in AI.

She graduated from Princeton in 1999 with a degree in physics and will be honored with the University’s Woodrow Wilson Award during Alumni Day on Feb. 24.

Li has spent two decades at the forefront of research related to artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning and computer vision.

While on the faculty at Princeton in 2009, she began the project that became ImageNet, an online database that was instrumental in the development of computer vision. Princeton computer scientists Jia Deng, Kai Li and Olga Russakovsky are also members of the ImageNet senior research team.

In 2017, Fei-Fei Li and Russakovsky co-founded AI4All, which supports educational programs designed to introduce high school students with “diverse perspectives, voices and experiences to the field of AI to unlock its potential to benefit humanity.” 

Li is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Cover of a book, entitled: The Worlds I See

“The Worlds I See” shares her firsthand account of how AI has already revolutionized our world and what it means for our future. Li writes about her work with national and local policymakers to ensure the responsible use of technology. She has testified on the issue before U.S. Senate and Congressional committees.  

“Professor Li beautifully illuminates the persistence that science demands, the disappointments and detours that are inevitable parts of research, and the discoveries, both large and small, that sustain her energy,” Eisgruber said.  

Li also shares deeply personal stories in her memoir, from moving to the U.S. from China at age 15 to flourishing as an undergraduate at Princeton while also helping run her family’s dry-cleaning business.

“Professor Li’s book weaves together multiple narratives,” Eisgruber said. “One of them is about her life as a Chinese immigrant in America. She writes poignantly about the challenges that she and her family faced, the opportunities they treasured, and her search for a sense of belonging in environments that sometimes made her feel like an outsider.”

During a talk on campus last November, Li said she sees a “deep cosmic connection” between her experiences as an immigrant and a scientist.

“They share one very interesting characteristic, which is the uncertainty,” Li said during the Princeton University Public Lecture. “When you are an immigrant, or you are at the beginning of your young adult life, there is so much unknown. ... You have to explore and you have to really find your way. It is very similar to becoming a scientist.”

Li said she became a scientist to find answers to the unknown, and in “The Worlds I See” she describes her quest for a “North Star” in science and life.  

In the Pre-read forward, Eisgruber encouraged students to think about their own North Stars and what may guide them through their Princeton journeys.

Copies of “The Worlds I See,” published by Macmillan Publishers, will be sent this summer to students enrolled in the Class of 2028. (Information on admission dates and deadlines for the Class of 2028 is available on the Admission website).

More information about the Pre-read tradition for first-year students can be found on the Pre-read website. A list of previous Pre-read books follows.

2013 — “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen” by Kwame Anthony Appiah

2014 — “Meaning in Life and Why It Matters” by Susan Wolf

2015 — “Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do” by Claude Steele

2016 — “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” by Danielle Allen

2017 — “What Is Populism?” by Jan-Werner Müller

2018 — “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech” by Keith Whittington

2019 — “Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy” by James Williams

2020 — “This America” by Jill Lepore

2021 — “Moving Up Without Losing Your Way” by Jennifer Morton

2022 — “Every Day the River Changes” by Jordan Salama

2023 — “How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future” by Maria Ressa.