Women in Tech on the Future of AI

By Michelle Aguilar

Artificial intelligence is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S., yet a well-documented gender gap in the field deters talent, diminishes potential, and can introduce bias in the technology, which will substantially affect aspects of our economy and everyday lives.

The 2019 “Women in Tech: The Future of AI” symposium addressed these issues and more at a half-day public event at UC Berkeley on International Women’s Day (March 8). Hosted by the Women in Tech Initiative at the University of California (WITI@UC), the symposium drew a sold-out crowd over 200 to keynotes, panel discussions, networking, and the presentation of the 2019 WITI@UC Athena Awards.

On “Accountability in the Future of AI,” panelist Sabine Gerdon, a Fellow at the World Economic Forum, spoke on work underway to address AI governance. “Technological development is moving fast, and a lot of governments are lagging behind trying to regulate AI,” said Gerdon. “So we’re exploring other ways of regulation – such as ‘sandboxes’ allowing for experimentation as well as putting the right institutional structures in place. In the U.K., we’re setting up a center for ethics in innovation, which will be like an advisory body to the government, that looks at certain issues in society related to data ethics.”

On “Building the Future of AI,” panelist Rama Akkiraju, researcher at IBM Watson, responded to the question of whether AI is becoming more inclusive by citing a study in a New York Times report finding that facial recognition algorithms were more likely to misidentify the gender of black women than white men.

“It may or may not be inclusive, depending on who builds it and the various constraints with which they build it,” said Akkiraju. “But there’s a practical solution that we can approach and take to address this problem, that is: Set the goals first. What is this AI system supposed to do? What is the purpose of this AI model? If the goal is clearly defined, that goal should transfer into the data collection requirements for the data scientists building the model.”

After a breakout session on “Fostering Inclusive Cultures,” attendee Clara Yoon, a product designer at Tradecraft, shared her personal story. She had grown up in an affluent community, yet her family faced bankruptcy as she entered college. “I feel like I’ve seen both sides of the world. That is why I went into product design, because I realized that there are a lot of people that are marginalized,” said Yoon. “My end goal, regardless of what industry I go into, is to make sure minority voices are being heard – and that is through research.”

The afternoon WITI@UC Athena Awards presentation recognized outstanding women technologists in four categories. Each award winner also received a Certificate of Recognition from the office of U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA14), a lifelong advocate for women’s equality.

For Academic Leadership, the awardee is Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College; for Next Generation Engagement, “Double Shelix” podcast co-founders Sally Winkler and Kayla Wolf; for Early Career, Maria Artunduaga, founder and CEO of Respira Labs; and for Lifetime Achievement, Barbara Simons, former president of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Founded in 2016, WITI@UC is a joint program of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. The third annual Women in Tech symposium was made possible with the support of Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Dropbox, Google, Autodesk, Lam Research, Micron, Siemens, Intel, and SEMI Foundation. Campus partners include SkyDeck, One IT, the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership, UC Berkeley School of Information, UC Berkeley Staff Learning and Development, the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals, the Bakar Fellows Program, the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law, and the Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Research Alliances at UC Berkeley.

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Pictured from left: Jill Finlayson of WITI@UC, Maria Artunduaga of Respira Labs, and Claire Tomlin of CITRIS Sutainable Infrastructures. Photo: Adriel Olmos.

View the Women in Tech – Future of AI 2019 photo gallery:

Photos: Adriel Olmos.