Washington DC’s Capitol Riverfront was teaming with energy on this Tuesday evening as we gathered for AIGrrls, a monthly mixer bringing together civic technologists, entrepreneurs, and artificial intelligence (AI) practitioners.
A Who’s Who of stars in innovation — including Jana Eggers, CEO of Nara Logics; Charlotte Lee, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kastling Group; Jennifer Bonine of PinkLion.ai; Soni Meckem, former Transformation Innovation Leader at Humana Inc.; and Wanmei Ou, former Director of Precision Medicine & Data Science at Merck — shared their insights on ethical considerations in AI.
These gathering are important because the philosophical underpinnings of artificial intelligence are still in a nascent stage. It’s worthwhile to remember something the late Stephen Hawking said: “We should shift the goal of AI from creating pure undirected artificial intelligence to creating beneficial intelligence. It might take decades to figure out how to do this, so let’s start researching this today.”
At AIGrrls, one of the ways we are nurturing beneficial intelligence is by creating space for diverse voices who will make AI more accessible, understandable, and relatable to a broad public. And at IVOW, home of AIGrrls, we believe that effective fusion of AI and Cultural Intelligence will help diminish bias in algorithmic identification and train AI software to be much more inclusive.
Hadeel Al-Tashi, Director of WeWork DC Labs, welcomed everyone and talked about the importance of fostering, funding, and helping to scale talented female founders.
Nina Walia, an Experience Designer for ubiquitous technology and emerging platforms, took center stage with her wearable commuter style Levi’s jacket. As a Design Lead on Jacquard, a collaboration between Google and Levi’s, Nina wove technological experiences into interactive textiles and surfaces at Google. She swiped and tapped her left sleeve to show how even tap detection based on Machine-Learning needs diverse data to work for people of all backgrounds.
In a series of lightning talks, the speakers touched upon the need to build and foster a diverse community of AI practitioners who are committed to responding to the needs of humanity by being more empathetic and deeply inclusive.
Jennifer Bonine is the CEO of PinkLion AI, a breakout company that brings AI to the world’s App teams. The Founding Sponsor of AIGrrls, Jennifer feels it’s imperative to be fully aware and ensure we embrace and support women and create inclusion of cultures as we implement and humanize AI solutions for the organizations we work with.
For her part, civic technologist Nina Bianchi sported a flowing jacket featuring the phrase “The future is female” in Morse code print. She noted that AIGrrls is a symbol of hope for future leaders who craft more mindful and sensing communities. “Women were the first coders and first actual computers — artificial intelligence is an extension of the groundwork laid by our early lady pioneers. Imagine how smart our culture could become if we lead by listening and nurturing networks,” Nina added.
Jana Eggers is CEO of Nara Logics, a neuroscience-inspired artificial intelligence company. Her career has focused on AI and high performance computing, from American Airlines to Lycos, Intuit, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. “AI/ML learns its values from you and your organization, so it is critical that you have folks from across your organization and from your customer/user base involved in developing and understanding your AI efforts,” she pointed out.
Jana proposed three key building blocks to AI development: what she calls the eggs, the chicken, and the bacon. “Focus on quality of the data for your unique business problem, not quantity.” Like Lego blocks, Jana said, the three components can be combined in a lot of different ways, but they still have to be designed to fit together. “Oh, and, yes, you can just end your argument with ‘AI will bring us more bacon,’ ” she added.
Charlotte Lee is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kastling Group, an IT consulting company that specializes in modernizing aging software systems through human-centered design. As part of her talk, she shared elements from her 12 Principles of Ethical Modernization.
“Technology without a human purpose is not just banal, it is unethical,” Charlottes said. “There is an order to consider for our endeavors: Philosophy, morality, ethicality, legality, then utility. We often begin with utility. We wonder, ‘what is a good application of this technology?’ before we examine the purpose of our lives and the meaning we want to apply to our work. The endeavors we take on as technologists should reflect the change we want to see in humanity. It shouldn’t replace or displace the evolution of mankind. It should democratize, not disrupt or replace processes.”
Charlotte has advised on major redesigns of the US government’s complex enterprise software at such agencies as the House of Representatives and the Patent and Trademark Office. In 2018, The American Council of Technology-Industry Advisory Council awarded Charlotte the Rookie of the Year Award for her contributions to thought leadership and her accomplishments in improving Customer Experience in Federal Government.
Several of the AIGrrls speakers talked about the need for inclusive datasets and investment in AI by and for women of color.
“These are not new issues we are talking about and we can have various altitudes and layers of ethical policies and governance around AI/ML. Don’t wait for that,” said civic technologist Soni Meckem. Soni’s Silicon Valley positions have included Cisco, Intuit, PayPal, and Sun; plus she was the CIO of Miami-Dade County, the fourth largest court system in the country.
Soni says where it counts is where the rubber hits the road. “Do you have well trained x-functional teams working at the applied level with the values, ethics, and applied hygiene (best practices) to clearly assess and address the potential ethical impacts with regards to human, economic, and environmental concerns?” she asked.
Since graduating from MIT with a PhD in Computer Science, Wanmei Ou has led multiple enterprise digital initiatives that have transformed the use of data to enable precision medicine and accelerate biomedical research. “Sometimes when pursuing technical challenges in deep learning, we need to go back to the basics. Deep learning does not necessarily outperform simpler models,” according to Wanmei. “Don’t neglect the details on how negative data was constructed in the training set.”
Raluca Barbulescu, Director of Client Services at e-spres-oh, talked about the importance of having the right product mindset when you’re building software. Referring to the controversies around Clearview AI, Raluca emphasized the responsibility to build ethical software, and to ensure you are mindful of the tools you use at every level.
In these short but illuminating talks, we also explored An Algorithm for Stories on Women, and the need for new datasets. Developing AI to have applications in an inclusive manner requires paying careful attention to underrepresented and underserved populations. These are often the same end beneficiaries whose voices are less echoed in the technology world. This is especially pertinent given that AI-driven technologies may actually entrench social divides by inadvertently promoting biased human decisions.
Currently, there is no algorithm that captures empirical data around narratives of women who have inspired humanity across the centuries. Together with the nonprofit AI Commons, IVOW is building a coalition to crowdfund and later crowdsource structured data on relevant global narratives. This effort is vital to give cultural context to AI models, as current datasets are lacking in information about many cultures and traditions. The objective of this challenge is therefore to provide critical historical context for the preservation of culture, with a specific emphasis on the role of women.
AIGrrls is a networking event powered by IVOW AI, a US tech company focused on AI and cultural content now incubating at WeWork DC Labs. Since Fall 2019, some 50 civic tech leaders, AI practitioners, data scientists and entrepreneurs in the United States have spoken at our events including Paula Davis, Head of AI and Analytics at Deloitte; Nicole Wong, former Deputy CTO of the White House; and Amarda Shehu, Director of Shehu Machine Learning Lab at George Mason University. Our events are open to the public and all are welcome.