Artificial Intelligence is transforming most of the industries in our society. As a consequence, the impact of AI on existing jobs is hard to ignore. However, it is also hard to ignore the huge number of opportunities this fascinating field promises and represents.
To keep up with this ongoing transformation, it will be necessary to be equipped with new skills for most profiles whether technical or non-tech, amplify intrinsic skills to human beings such as creativity and ingenuity, and even exacerbate our qualities of empathy.
It is also important to address issues related to diversity and inclusion in the field. This topic is not only at the heart of the HR concerns of companies, but it is also a subject that AI also amplifies, at all levels in its design, its uses and its implementation.
These AI-related issues where the subject of discussion during a round table at Microsoft’s experiences18 that I was invited to. At this round table we discussed 3 major questions:
What is the impact of Artificial Intelligence on jobs? How to become ready for AI and the transformation it is doing to the job market? What are the challenges of being a woman this field and how can we deal with these challenges?
Here is my responses to these core questions and some thoughts I had on the topic.
Q. As a researcher in the AI Field, how do you define Artificial Intelligence?
In order to define Artificial Intelligence, it is necessary to define Intelligence. Intelligence has been defined in many different ways including one’s capacity to think and act logically, to understand, learn and to be self-aware, to have emotional knowledge, and to have the capacity of planning, creativity, and problem solving, etc.
Artificial Intelligence is simply the science of endowing machines with intelligence that is similar to human intelligence, whether it is emotional intelligence, social intelligence, logical intelligence, planning, creativity, etc. It has several sub-fields, one of them is Machine Learning, which can be seen as a way to implement learning and decision making in AI.
Q. In your opinion, what could be the skills that we should be developing to become AI Ready?
AI is a multidisciplinary field, meaning that when we build AI products or applications we need skills from different disciplines such as Computer Science but also psychology, social and behavioral sciences.
Imagine that you are building a companion robot that will accompany you or your family in the house. It needs to interact with you or your family members. This requires skills from mechanical engineering, electronics, Computer Science but also from social sciences and psychology because it is important that the robot will respect social norms and interact in a natural way, similar to the way a human interacts.
Consequently, an important skill in my opinion is to be a team player, meaning to be able to work in teams, build teams, and integrate solutions created by other teams.
It is also necessary to have soft skills such as communication. Why? Because, working in this field you will sure interact with people that are not of similar background and you should be able to communicate your demands and ideas to these people.
Also, we need to nurture qualities such as creativity, adaptability, and interpersonal skills. This is something that we should work on starting from a young age. So it is necessary to emphasize on exercises that nurtures these skills in children at schools.
Finally, it is important to commit to life long active learning. This means the you should always be ready to improve your skills and learn whatever new skills that are necessary to the transformation of your job.
Q. You are an Engineer in AI and Robotics, what does it mean for you in a day to day basis?
Being an AI and robotics engineer I work on solving complex technical problems such as person detection and recognition, voice recognition as well as human behavior recognition where I essentially use programming and Data Science including Machine Learning. I then integrate the solutions I’ve developed into hardware and employ them in real time which add hardware skills to the package.
I also work a lot with other team members whether those of different backgrounds such as designers or similar background such as software engineers. This requires communication skills and being a good team player.
Another thing I constantly do is monitoring the new research and technological advances is in the problematics I am tackling. After all, no one wants to spend a huge amount of time on solving something that is already solved.
Q. If I am a student, which track do you recommend to become AI ready?
In my case I have graduated from engineering school with a major in a Telecommunication and a Computer Science. I have then followed up with a Master degree in Control, Robotics, Signal and Image Processing and then a PhD in AI applied to the automatic recognition of human behavior in Human-Machine Interaction.
However you are not obliged to have an engineering degree in order to have a career in the field of AI. There are lots of resources and MOOCs out there that are more than sufficient to learn about AI and start a career in it.
If you are a student that is interested in science and programming, you should start as early as possible to educate yoruself and familiarize your self to AI applications and programming.
If you are a student who is more interested in other specialities such as medicine or social sciences you should prepare and educate yourself on how AI will change the career that intersts you.
Q. What are some examples of bias in AI?
Perhaps a famous example of bias in AI is Tay, Microsoft’s Twitter-based chatbot that turned into a racist monster after learning through interaction from his Twitter follower.
Now what Tay taught us is not only that AI systems will learn the biases from the data we feed it, but also the importance of foreseeing such problems and tackling them.
Q. How to avoid these biases?
A possible way to fight against bias is by working on the automatic detection and prevention of bias in algorithms.
Why don’t we let AI detect it and fix it.
Research on this topic already exists since 2003. However a problem with the current approaches is that there is no consensus on how to measure the fairness and bias of algorithms.
A first step to solve this is to create this consensus which requires the federation of skills in multidisciplinary teams from sociological sciences, legal definitions, in addition to statistical and computer techniques.
It is also necessary to have more women in the field of AI!
Having more women working in the field and participating in the design and creation of AI systems is primordial to assure that these systems are not biased towards certain opinions and stereotypes in the society.
When the teams creating AI systems are diverse, it is more likely that these systems will be fit to a bias-free world!
Q. What are the challenges we have, and you faced as a woman in this field?
To be honest, on the scientific level, working in this field is more of interesting and intriguing than challenging. However, as there is not a lot of women in the field, I have this thing within me that tells me:
I have to prove myself and standout in an environment that is dominated by men.
On the other hand, The main challenge I have faced as a women in AI was before I started working in AI, It was actually at the point where I wanted to choose to become an engineer, just when I finished high school. I was not encouraged to do engineering by my surroundings. I was directed towards other careers that are more adequate to women according to society… Luckily I had the courage to stick to what I wanted and not listen to the advices I was getting.
In this position, I find that it is my responsibility and the responsibility of other women like me to raise awareness of young girls and women towards what their true capacities and career possibilities are. It is very important to show young girls that If they want it, they can do it and to make them stronger and more confident to do what they like whether it is perceived as hard for their gender or not!
Q. How can we attract more women into the AI and tech field? Can you share any actions or initiatives to hire more women?
It is no surprise that there is a lack of women role models in the field of tech generally and in the field of AI specifically. So, a first step to take is to nurture women role models in this field. There are lots of women experts out there, but they are unknown. The reason is that they are afraid to speak up and to take the stage.
Another way is to increase the interest of young girls in the field of STEM. This can be done by leveraging on hands-on projects from a young age.
It is also very important to work on women’s self-confidence and courage. As women, we are raised to be less courageous than men. From a young age, women are educated to take less risks and choose the “easy” way. This results in a lack of awareness in their true potential and opportunities.
At Women In AI, we have several actions whose purpose is to attract more women to the field of AI.
Through WaiTALK, our flagship event, we periodically invite AI women experts to talk about their work. We also have a speakers curation program, WaiONSTAGE, where we curate women speakers to our events’ partners. By allowing women take the stage, we are nurturing women role models to be the guide for the youngest.
We have an education program WAI2GO which is dedicated to females from all age groups starting from elementary school till the adult age.
Some of our activities in this program is destined at increasing the interest of young girls in STEM and the field of AI. For example, WaiCAMP, a bootcamp for teenagers between 12 and 16 years old. The camp is a mixture of lectures, hands-on robotics projects and inspiring talks by role models.