Diverse perspectives are critical for ethical AI

Women in AI Ethics Podcast Series

It is widely acknowledged that Ada Lovelace, born in the 19th century, was the first computer programmer but her contributions and that of many other brilliant women in science and technology have been erased and attributed to men. Even today, diverse voices in the male-dominated tech industry are overlooked and non-traditional backgrounds dismissed as “not techy enough”.

During a recent podcast series in collaboration with IBM, I had the opportunity to meet amazing women from multi-disciplinary backgrounds in key AI and technology roles at the tech giant. Their non-typical backgrounds give them an unique ability to identify opportunities as well as ethical gaps in AI that would be otherwise missed. Here are some highlights from our wide-ranging conversations that remind us of the critical importance of non-traditional backgrounds in technology.

“The intent by which we look at data is incredibly important in how we see that data and how that data really goes into the algorithms that can truly affect people’s lives.” ~ Beth Rudden

Let’s start with Beth Rudden, a distinguished Engineer and Principal Data Scientist — Cognitive and AI Services at IBM. In a space dominated by tech bro’s, Beth stands out as a trained archeologist and cultural anthropologist. Her non-traditional background makes her uniquely suited to what some of her engineering colleagues call the “squishy” parts of technology development. Her ability to see data in a very different way and as artifacts of human behavior has made her perspective invaluable to her peers. Read more about Beth’s perspective on building responsible AI at scale.

“I see this (AI) as a puzzle with many pieces and multiple sides. What I see, may not be what you see or what others see. So we need input from people from all walks of life.” ~Saishruthi Swaminathan

Saishruthi Swaminathan’s journey began in a small town in India and today she works at IBM, bringing ethical and trustworthy AI to life with the open-source tools and toolkits that she has been actively developing at the company. She has a masters in electrical engineering but found it too abstract. It was after she started working as a systems engineer that she discovered her passion for computer programming and AI. Read more about Saishruthi’s work on ethical and trustworthy AI tools.

“I’m worried that people may assume that because it’s this AI model that doesn’t have “fallible human bias” the decisions made by the AI are morally or ethically, squeaky clean.” ~Phaedra Boinodiris

Phaedra Boinodiris along with her sister co-founded a web portal back in the 90s, which was focused on women gamers who played computer and console games. They wrote game reviews and articles about the industry and eventually started a scholarship. Her road to IBM started in business school when the company was looking for innovative ways of explaining Business Process Management to non-technical executives. Today, Phaedra is the Trust in AI Business Transformation Leader at IBM. Here’s more on Phaedra’s journey from gaming to trustworthy AI.

“In the last few years, it’s pretty clear that the citizen data scientists or the data consumers have their own skills and that we need to serve their needs to enable AI and ML activities such that they do not have to worry about governance and privacy.” ~Mukta Singh

Mukta Singh started off as a Development Engineer and Manager early in her career at IBM. It was during the shift in the tech industry towards data science that she went through product development and application development. Here evolution to data management to AI and Data Privacy in Product Management continued in response to market and client needs for their data consumption. Today she works as a product management executive for data and AI at IBM. Read more about Mukta ensures data privacy across AI lifecycle.

“I joined IBM as a researcher and so I started looking at… what does it mean to build technology that is trustworthy, that people can trust?” ~Francesca Rossi

Francesca Rossi has an academic career in this space that spans many years and this IBM Fellow and AI Ethics Global Leader started as a researcher in AI. At one point, she along with her colleagues in the research community started thinking about the ethics and implications of use and deployment of this powerful technology on society. Today, she leads internal governance of AI at IBM and co-chairs their AI ethics board, which has representatives from all the business units of the company. Here’s Francesca’s perspective on the ethics of surveillance technologies.

“As a designer, I was really curious about our responsibilities as designers for transparency, ethics, and best practices (in AI).” ~ Milena Pribic

Last but not the least, Milena Pribic’s journey in AI started with a front-end development bootcamp in 2015 and she came to IBM as a front-end developer. Later on, she naturally switched over to design and UX as she was learning design and there was a real need for design resources on the teams that she was working on. As a designer, she was curious about what were designer professionals’ responsibilities for transparency, ethics, and best practices. So she along with Francesca Rossi, her now manager, Adam Cutler put together “Everyday Ethics for AI”, which was one of their first public AI ethics resources meant for teams. Learn more about Milena’s best practices for designing ethical AI.

As we continue to interview more women and non-binary folks in this space to elevate diverse voices in AI, you can read their inspiring career journeys and personal stories on our Women in AI Ethics blog.

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Mia Dand

Mia Dand

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Builder of useful things. CEO - Lighthouse3, Founder - Women in AI Ethics