Women Leading the AI Industry: “We need to amplify the sense of urgency and ensure we’re an active participant in how the world builds and uses AI.” with Natalie Cartwright & Tyler Gallagher
North America is moving too slowly. Compared to some parts of the world, North America is not keeping up in the race to innovate and commercialize AI. We need to amplify the sense of urgency and ensure we’re an active participant in how the world builds and uses AI. We need to be active participants. We can’t be observers.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Cartwright, COO and Co-founder, Finn AI.
Thank you so much for joining us! None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m grateful to my mom. She taught me lessons early in my life that I’ve used consistently in my career. Every day, when she drove me to school, she’d say “be nice to everyone today”. And I was a nice kid already! But this daily reminder reinforced in me the value in getting along with different people and — as much as possible — showing kindness consistently.
My mom worked very hard — she was a fantastic mom — raising three kids and building a career. She also set a great example by making time for herself while doing all of this, something that was very important for a young girl to see.
She helped me and my siblings build core values, exposed us to a variety of experiences including education, sports, and arts…always supportive of whatever we wanted to do. She encouraged us to take risks, try things, to not fear failure so long as we tried.
In the words of my mom: Most people are privileged. Education is something you carry with you but more often than not, you mostly use it for the benefit of others. Most of my career decisions are grounded in this philosophy
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
Of all the work we’ve done at Finn AI so far, our work with TymeBank in South Africa is the best example of our technology bringing goodness to the world. In this partnership, we’ve focused on delivering financial wellness and literacy to a large population of underbanked people in South Africa. Working with TymeBank, we were able to re-form the bank model so it fits to serve this segment of people. TymeBank has democratized banking, making it accessible to all regardless of net worth.
Our mandate at Finn AI is to improve the financial lives of 100 million people by 2025. Our work with TymeBank is a perfect example of how we will deliver this result.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
1) I’d advise women not in the AI space to get into the AI space. AI is so nascent that there are few people trained in this space. It’s a great time to get in what will become one of the biggest industries ever.
2) We need to keep the minds of our children open to consider all options when it comes to their careers. These choices must be gender agnostic.
3) Embrace diversity and the value that diverse teams can deliver. It’s not all about gender. Diversity occurs because of a wide ranges of differences including education, cultural, gender, age, income, etc. There is a proven correlation between profitability and diverse teams. Research this, then employ it in everything you do.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
We need to continue to promote examples of women who are already working in AI. People believe anything is possible when they see others doing it. Most of the women in AI that I know — and women in STEM careers generally — are active and vocal, engaging with the larger community. We need to continue on this path to ensure the door continues to open.
What is your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“Know your angles and play them”.
Is it hard being a woman in AI? Yes. There are definitely opportunities where I’ve been overlooked because I’m a woman. In the early days, in business meetings with my co-founder (Jake Tyler), at times the assumption was that either I was his assistant or his life partner. Happily, these incidents happen less frequently today.
But there’s an upside as well and one that’s worked out very well for my company. As a c-suite female in AI (and technology overall), I receive a ton of interest from the media and event organizers for interviews and speaking engagements. I probably speak in front of thousands of people each month. Another benefit is even more tangible. Because Finn AI has a female COO, we qualify for investment funds that look to support female-led businesses. In our recent Series A raise, we received funding from two different sources based in part on this criteria.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would launch a movement that helps people embrace the potential of AI without fearing it. There are so many positive outcomes that AI can deliver — it’s truly amazing. So my movement would be all about reinforcing all the good that AI can bring to the world.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
1. Purpose-driven ethics: AI makes inferences about groups and communities as the basis of its predictions, and this could lead to amplification of bias as most of our existing data sets have systemic human bias embedded. We need to make sure that AI has the same or better bias than the status quo of what it is replacing or enhancing. Well- managed AI can help us remove existing bias that exists today but it has to be actively monitored and managed.
2. Speed of policy & regulation: AI can be targeted by hackers, so it’s important that companies have controls and response protocols in place to mitigate risk should hackers gain access to AI models. Policies must be in place to ensure that humans are always the control point.
3. Transitioning Job Skills in Pace with AI: AI is resulting in more automation, specifically human labor. This means that AI will eliminate some jobs in almost every field. This isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. When ATMs first hit the market, people were worried about bank tellers losing their jobs, but this didn’t happen. Individuals still go to their tellers today, but now they do it for higher value interactions. This will also occur with AI. Humans will move higher up the value chain, away from repetitive tasks (which AI can easily complete) and towards higher-value tasks. As with most technologies that came before, we will also need to evolve some of our policies to reflect new technologies and ensure that we are building AI that serves us.
4. Overall Fear of AI. We need to counter the knee-jerk reaction many people have when it comes to AI. I receive so many questions that reflect a mindset that AI is the next terminator / will take over the world / replace humans. We need to develop a baseline knowledge of what AI can do — especially the good it can deliver.
I speak to thousands of people each month about AI and there is fear-based sentiment across the board. We’ve not yet done a good job of preparing people for what is to come and how good it will be. From my perspective there remains a significant disconnect between what people think about AI and what most consumer-facing AI today really is.
5. North America is moving too slowly. Compared to some parts of the world, North America is not keeping up in the race to innovate and commercialize AI. We need to amplify the sense of urgency and ensure we’re an active participant in how the world builds and uses AI. We need to be active participants. We can’t be observers.
Thank you for joining us!