AI is reshaping our world, from the way we hire people for jobs to the way we drive, but currently it’s a poor reflection of the world it’s changing. Most leading machine learning researchers are white men – and we know that a lack of diversity in the people who build technology is reflected in the impact of that technology. If we want a future that’s designed for all of us, we need to make sure that the people helping build the technology that shapes that future are a fair representation of the world at large. This is the second installment of our series highlighting women using technology to solve big problems. Meet 5 women in AI you should know.
It’s Engineers Week – a chance to highlight engineers and the work they do! But there are many different types of engineers who work on solving different types of problems, using different materials. Some engineers work on the scale of huge buildings, and others work on the micro-biological level of cells and cell parts.
Learn more about five different types of engineers, what they work on, and fun projects you can do to test your own engineering skills.
AI is changing the world – everything from the way we shop for groceries to the way we hire people for jobs, but it doesn’t really reflect the world it’s changing. Wired estimates that only 12% of leading machine learning researchers are women, and we know that a lack of diverse AI researchers means that the technology they build skews towards a white and male default representation of the world, effectively reproducing and worsening existing human bias.
The technology that’s shaping our future needs to be built by people who represent the diversity of humanity, in order to ensure that the future is designed for all of us. Today we’ll start highlighting the many amazing women already doing inspiring work with Artificial Intelligence. In the first of a series highlighting women using technology to solve big problems, here are 5 women in AI you should know, sharing their work, their inspiration, and how they find problems they want to solve.
As part of our AI in Your Community series, I spoke with Pierre Bonnet, a tropical botanist, and Alexis Joly, a computer scientists who have been working on a project called Pl@ntNet for the past ten years. Pierre and Alexis work together to develop tools that teach people about biodiversity and plant identification while also building a collaborative data set that spans continents.
Tara Chklovski: Let’s start by having you introduce yourselves and tell me a little bit about your work and the problems that you’re trying to solve.
Pierre Bonnet: I’m Pierre Bonnet, I’m a scientist, mainly working in tropical botany. I work at the CIRAD Institute – we conduct research in tropical regions, which are hotspots for biodiversity. I’ve been working in the field of biodiversity informatics for 12 years now. From my point of view, my purpose is to collaborate with computer scientists to design a new approach to solve problems, like the problem presented by identifying hard-to-identify plants at a large scale.
I have worked with developers on tools for plant identification in tropical Africa and southeast Asia, and for the last ten years or so, I’ve been working with Alexis on the Pl@ntNet project. With Pl@ntNet we’re dedicated to trying to solve the problem of identifying plants at a large scale using images. My field is mainly botany so I collaborate with engineers and computer scientists like Alexis – Alexis has been my main collaborator for ten years now. Alexis?
Alexis Joly: My name is Alexis Joly. I’m a computer scientist and part of a research organization in France, called Inria. I’m a specialist of machine learning and computer vision technologies, and I’ve been applying this research to biodiversity and informatics for more than ten years. As for the Pl@ntNet project, at the beginning it was really a research project, with the idea of building and evaluating the technology, and so we have spent many years improving all these technologies and evaluating them at a large scale with researchers.
For three years we have been funded by an educational initiative called Floris’tic, and we have collaborated with similar associations all over the world to do a lot of activities related to education.
January is National Mentoring Month! There is a significant mentoring gap in the United States – 9 million young people are growing up without a mentor. Having a mentor is important. Young people who grow up with a mentor are less likely to cut school and more likely to enroll in college, as well as participate in – and lead – extracurricular activities. Mentoring has a very real impact on both mentees and mentors, and it’s a special relationship. But it can be intimidating to get started.
Recently, we asked Myra Nawabi, a senior product engineer at Lockheed Martin and a Technovation mentor since 2014, to share her advice for new mentors. In Technovation, mentors support teams of young women as they identify a problem in their community and develop a mobile-app solution to solve that problem. For most girls, Technovation is their first exposure to programming and computer science, and many mentors feel pressure to be experts in computer science to best support their team. However, Technovation mentors don’t have to be experts in the field they’re mentoring in – mentoring is about bolstering confidence and being a sounding board, not having every single technical answer your mentee might have.
2018 was an important year for us – we launched the AI Family Challenge in 13 countries, reached more girls through Technovation than ever before, and helped Technovation students tell their story on Good Morning America. We helped demystify AI for students, families, and the general public through a series of public panels and debates, interviews, and created free curriculum in partnership with researchers and industry experts.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done this year, and more impressed than ever by the young people, families, educators, and community and corporate partners we work with who all tap into their courage to learn something new and create solutions to community problems.
As 2019 gets underway, we’ve been reflecting on our progress this past year (we ask our students to reflect on their work, so it’s only fair we do it too!) and the lessons we learned about our programs and their impact.
Our participants are ready to change the world. Every year Technovation students address the same Sustainable Development Goals that the UN asks world leaders to tackle – like health, the environment, education, and inequality. We want to make sure that they have the skills they need to keep working on them long after our programs end.
Preparing for the Future: Computational Thinking and 21st Century Skills
We equip students to solve the problems they care about most by teaching them basic technological literacy skills – and then having them apply those skills directly.
Technovation students develop a basic understanding of programming and improve their computational thinking skills. In partnership with MIT, we evaluated projects submitted in 2018 and found that students demonstrate development of key computational thinking skills.
Evaluations from MIT, WestEd and Oregon State University found that after participating in our programs, students are more self-confident, better problem solvers, better entrepreneurs, moreresilient, and more self-reliant. We even found that after continuous exposure (16 or more hours) to our programs, students perform better on standardized tests.
Getting Ready for the Future of Work: Professional Development for Mentors
Mentors are vital to our programs’ success, and we are committed to ensuring that their experience supporting girls and families is positive and enriching. In 2018, we engaged over 4,500 mentors in our programs.
Mentoring helps professionals develop the soft skills they can use to advance and adapt in their field. Before beginning the season, only 25% of Technovation mentors were confident in their ability to mentor a team. By the end of the season, 82% of mentors expressed confidence in their mentorship abilities.
- 66% felt they had improved at mentoring youth
- 50% improved at ideation (developing innovative ideas)
- 47% improved their team building skills
We anticipate that these skills will continue to increase in demand as professional development efforts focus on “soft skills” and lifelong learning initiatives in 2019 and beyond.
Take a look at our 2018 Year’s End infographic to learn more about what students and mentors learn and how they grow more prepared to solve big problems. You can also get a peek at what we think the top trends in Artificial Intelligence fields will be!
Christina is 9 years old. She loves dancing, art, and science, and every morning she recites her own affirmations to remind herself of her inner strength and values.
Dina is Christina’s mom. She encourages and supports Christina to try new things, reminds her of her beauty and her intelligence, and helps find new opportunities to continually help Christina explore her curiosity. So when the community resources center where Christina takes dance lessons announced they would be offering the Curiosity Machine AI Family Challenge, Dina signed them up, excited by the opportunity to learn more about science and technology. With that, Christina and Dina became part of the community of nearly 7,000 students and parents participating in the AI Family Challenge across the world.
Since then, Dina and Christina have attended every session of the program, learning more each week as they work through progressively harder projects. For Dina, it’s led to her feeling more positively about AI – “I feel like I’m open to AI, I think it benefits our society, but [there’s] a small percentage that feels like will it take over… but after the AI class, it gives you more of the insight on how safe it can be vs. a human as an example. It gives you behind the scenes insight.”
“[Today’s activities] showed us that math and science can be very fun; when you work as a team you can accomplish anything.” – Flodinita Santillan, Parent
Shifting From Fear to Fun
“We had fun racking our brains to figure out how to complete each activity and they liked it! This really gave me an idea of the engineering field.” – Bianca Loaiza, parent
While AI isn’t new, the media’s sudden focus on it – good and bad – has brought it to everyone’s attention. The perception of AI-driven machines is both, embraced and shunned, for its potential impact on society. Arizona has been especially ridden with fear after an incident in March where a self-driving car killed a woman.
When Iridescent’s Founder and CEO, Tara Chklovski, asked the girls and their families who found AI mysterious and scary, a room full of hands shot into the air. Tara explained that we are not familiar with positive instances of AI in action because these examples, such as video games or search engines, are so integrated into our everyday lives we don’t recognize them as AI.