Women in AI… more than just names for personal assistants.

Valentina Milanova
Feb 15, 2018 · 5 min read

While 2017 saw the rise of crypto-currencies and ICOs, the topics of artificial intelligence and gender diversity dominated conversations in the tech world. Undoubtedly, as AI permeates every aspect of our lives, it’s becoming increasingly important that women are represented in the field. With research concluding that AI will be writing best-selling novels by 2040, and Yahoo already using the technology to compose some of the articles on its platform, it’s essential to consider the gender biases we may be incorporating into the DNA of AI.

These are some of the issues, which provoked a pioneering group of Women in AI to come together and open up a dialogue at Founders Factory.

Should artificial intelligence remain a privilege for data scientists and PhDs?

Is there a way to place this incredibly powerful tool into the hands of more people?

What are the ways in which a lack of diversity affects product development?

One only needs to think back to the Apple Health app, which promised extensive health monitoring, yet failed to include a simple period tracking tool. It took a year for that to be built into the original application. Unsurprising, perhaps, as Apple’s first diversity report showed its employees are primarily male.

At Founders Factory we actively invest in seed-stage AI startups. We take our role in ensuring diversity in the field seriously, appreciating it’s up to us to change the status quo if we disagree with it. So far, we have accelerated Iris.ai, founded by brilliant female founder Anita Schjoll Brede.

This is why we were particularly excited to host Women in AI all the way from Paris in our offices last night. The event was part of the AI Summit conference and attracted an audience of 65 women (and men).

It wasn’t all about leaning in, though. The event was a vibrant showcase of female research and entrepreneurial work, of experts and people who are self-trained; all making a sustainable impact on the industry.

Women in AI sets ambitious goals for itself. The organisation wants to “close the gender gap in the field of Artificial Intelligence”. It has the human talent to match the ambition. The founding team consists of high-achievers, who don’t crack under pressure and have a proven track record of getting stuff done.

On their map for the year ahead are a number of educational and networking events, encouraging women not only to take part in AI, but to become actively-engaged, passionate members of a community with a rising importance.

The event kicked off with a keynote from Caroline Lair and Hanan Salam, community and education leads respectively. Their thought-provoking arguments included the question of gender diversity in the field as a matter of ensuring the humanity of AI.

While we like to think of AI in the safe terms of objectivity and neutrality, the technology is built and programmed by humans, who tend to steer clear of both. If programmers and data scientists are predominantly male, they will end up replicating unconscious bias, argued Hanan, a true pioneer in her field. With a PhD in AI and internationally recognized expertise in robotics, she bravely steps into the role of an educator for her peers.

In a context of female participation in AI being limited to Siri, Alexa, and Cortana having women’s names, it was inspiring to witness the confident way Salam disseminates her in-depth knowledge.

Next on stage was Oya Celiktutan, a postdoctoral researcher in robotics from Imperial College. She works with amazing robots. Check them out here. Oya spoke about the fascinating topic of incorporating emotional intelligence into the facial expressions and body language of robots. How close are we to automating personality judgement? Very. Just ask Oya.

Oya’s keynote was followed by a fireside chat with Chelsea Chen, the co-creator of Olly — an AI assistant that not only recognizes what you are doing, but also learns the intention behind your actions. Olly is then able to anticipate your needs and offer helpful suggestions. Refreshingly, it’s also an AI assistant with a boy’s name.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Founders Factory event without a few startup pitches! Read on for the latest and greatest from AI entrepreneurship:

First to test the waters was Ben Woolf, CEO of GameWay — the Tinder for mobile games discovery.

We also learned about Ixy, the AI mediator messaging app, helping users resolve painful conflicts they have with the people that matter to them. The CEO, Anna Gat, really cares about understanding, building, and sustaining human relationships through artificial intelligence.

Anna’s pitch was followed by that of Olga Egorsheva, CEO of Lobster.Media, an AI-enabled digital content library. Moving on from the creative world into HR, our own Zara Tam, CEO of Chosen.ai gave her pitch on using artificial intelligence to find qualified talent leads.

In the end, AI and entrepreneurship should be about building meaningful products, which address real human needs. We can’t achieve that if we exclude half of the population from the ideation process. As Kate Brodock, CEO of Women 2.0 puts it: “The hands and minds that make technology will have a direct impact on us as humans and on the world around us.”

Many of the concerns our societies have with regards to artificial intelligence have to do with fairness, privacy and ethics — all incredibly complex moral philosophy problems. In order to find the best formula for human-robot interactions, we need to make sure that we have cracked the female inclusion equation first.

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Valentina Milanova

Written by

Valentina Milanova is a Venture Associate @Founders Factory, the corporate backed incubator and accelerator in London. Valentina looks after the AI investments.