The Teen Girl AI Pipeline

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Today’s teen girls represent the much-needed talent pool to ensure that AI becomes more diverse and inclusive. Now it’s just a matter of getting them interested.

Getting more girls interested in coding is now firmly part of the inclusion conversation, with many wonderful organizations popping up to serve that need—but what doesn’t get enough attention is the particular plight of getting more girls to want to work on artificial intelligence. That’s the focus of an article in The Atlantic entitled “The Future of AI Depends on High School Girls.

Pointing out that there aren’t any government stats regarding women’s involvement in AI, writer Lauren Smiley notes that only 17 percent of the attendees at AI’s top conference last year were women. She compares that with the statistic that only 25 percent of computer scientists are women.

AI is a critically important area, and the lack of diversity of those programming is already leading to troubling results. For example, last month’s SheReports covered how having a predominance of male AI engineers has already led to such things as female voice-activated assistants, thereby reinforcing the stereotype of women as secretaries.

…only 17 percent of the attendees at AI’s top conference last year were women.

But things are looking up. Witness the summer programs geared towards educating high school students in AI, offered by the nonprofit AI4ALL, funded in part by Melinda Gates. Started by Olga Russakovsky, a Princeton professor who specializes in computer vision, and Fei-Fei Li, Google’s chief scientist for AI and machine learning and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and the Stanford Vision Lab, AI4ALL is working to increase diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence by creating pipelines for underrepresented talent. The Atlantic article highlights a student who has thrived in the program. Stephanie Tena, a bilingual daughter of a Mexican farm worker, lives in a trailer park in one of California’s agricultural regions. She studied at Stanford University as part of the first AI camp for girls. Her project? Detecting whether water has been contaminated because of runoff from fields in her hometown.

AI is a critically important area, and the lack of diversity of those programming is already leading to troubling results.

While Tena has been a star in her program, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. The reason should come as no surprise to SheReports readers: She was having trouble with mentorship. In this case, her mentor started becoming unavailable, therefore not providing Tena with enough help to finish her project at the same time as her peers. (In response, the organization was working to switch her to another mentor.) Although this is a situation involving hands-on help, it’s worth noting how important role models are. In the A+E Networks® Research Womanhood study, women want to see women depicted in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and leadership positions. Girls like Tena will themselves be role models as they pave the way for more diversity and inclusion in the field and create AI that addresses what is important to them.

AI4ALL is working to increase diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence by creating pipelines for underrepresented talent.

The Atlantic article is a great read about the details of the program and what girls like Tena can do — if one can get them to pursue working in AI. “A lot of the perception of AI is that it’s so hard to do and exclusive and you need to be a genius,” says Tess Posner, executive director of AI4ALL. “And this program is helping to break that narrative and say this is really for anyone and has applications for helping people.”