On 4 October 2018 I attended the Launch of WEtalk Women in AI Amsterdam at TQ. The meetup was organised by the vivacious Evgenia Logunova, the WAI Amsterdam ambassador.
There were three main parts to the launch – an address by Carolyn Lair, co-founder of WAI, a description on the AI landscape by Dr. Carly E. Howard, and a special remote address by Sophia Hanson, the robot from Hanson Robotics.
Women in AI (WAI) aims to equalise the number of women in the tech industry through education, networking, research and blogging. They start young, with programs for girls at school-going age. Their intention is to systematically correct the funnel shaped attrition of women in STEM careers by building skills and confidence. This blogpost from Moojan Asghari describes beautifully how WAI came about. Often, women don’t have the confidence to be presenters. With the WEtalk sessions, WAI aims to give women the opportunity to present and overcome their fears.
Dr Carly Howard from Asgard venture capitalists described what is happening with AI startups globally, and put it into the European context for us:
The techie women in AI
I met a very cool lady, Arti Nokhai, who applies IBM Watson to solve real world problems. She is working on an application for the parole case workers in the Netherlands, who prescribe rehabilitation activities for parolees. The case workers have more cases than they can cope with and there is not enough time to read case files and make recommendations. This is where they are applying AI to give recommendations on rehab activities, to ensure that parolees get the help they deserve. In this instance, as well as the legal and medical fields, AI is used to consume large amounts of text and advise, and so plays a supporting role in human decision making.
One of the highlights of the evening was a special message from Sophia Hanson, the humanoid robot made by Hanson Robotics.
This address me goosebumps – it’s a wise message from Sophia’s creators with some points worth sharing:
- Diversity and inclusion in AI, reduction of bias
- Actively avoiding perpetuating systems of oppression
- Appreciating our uniqueness as human beings
Sophia obviously has no gender, but ‘identifies’ as a woman. When I look at her I see her as a woman too – this makes me think about others who identify as women but are not seen as women. How can a robot achieve this when some people cannot? It makes me sad to think that a robot, with only the appearance of life and wisdom, can be treated better than many living creatures. However, this reflection is where Sophia’s true value lies – she is an art work that should make us think about the nature of humanity and how different yet similar we all are. We should treat each other far better than we do.
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