Techopia Live: How women leaders help build AI’s ‘humanity’

Techopia Live got a little lesson in humanity this week from, of all places, an artificial intelligence conference.

Behind the scenes Thursday at Impact AI, Ottawa’s now-annual conference on all things artificial intelligence hosted at Algonquin College, MindBridge AI chief executive Eli Fathi told Techopia Live about a new initiative to develop women leaders in STEM and the importance of diversity to the future of AI.

This year’s Impact AI was focused on the “humanity of AI.” Conference organizer Fathi said an AI application’s “humanity” boils down to how lawfully and ethically it behaves, how empathetic it can be and whether its decisions promote equality.

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If a person uses an AI to assist in a task, at the end of the day, that user needs to understand and be comfortable with how the algorithm produced its results. Transparency is paramount to adopting AI into a variety of everyday activities from fraud detection – in the case of MindBridge AI’s application – to filtering job applications, which can be fraught with risks of discrimination depending on the data sets used to train the AI.

“There is bias built into data today,” Fathi said. “They are going to have this bias injected into the algorithms, then we’re going to force decisions that are not acceptable to the human.”

Read Techopia editor Craig Lord’s feature on ethical AI and the Ottawa-based companies trying to make it a priority for developers.

One of the ways to reduce algorithmic bias is to change the people behind the code by adding more women. Only about 25 per cent of tech jobs in Canada are held by women, according to 2018 stats from the Information and Communications Technology Council. This gender imbalance can have a detrimental impact on AI development, Fathi argued.

“The algorithms are much more balanced when you have women part of the team developing them,” Fathi said.

There are two ways to improve these statistics: Start building the pipeline of tech talent earlier by encouraging girls in elementary school to stick with their natural curiosity for the sciences as they age; or train existing women in STEM to be leaders today.

The Heroes Initiative (emphasis on the “her”) announced at Impact AI this year takes the latter approach. MindBridge AI is partnering with the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College to hold one full-day session each in the fall and winter semesters that brings together female students and recent graduates for confidence training with successful women in tech.

Fathi believes the initiative could inspire young women to take on leadership roles at companies, so that when the latest generation of young girls in tech is ready to enter the workforce, those workers will hopefully be greeted by a cohort of women ready to bring them into the industry.

“This is going to skew the numbers to the positive side while you’re building the pipeline on the STEM side as well,” he said.

To hear more of Fathi’s thoughts on responsible AI development and tips from Stratford Managers on patenting AI applications, watch the video above.

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