Proper AI Requires Diversity of Minds
AI-powered innovation holds significant promise for tackling the world’s problems – from immediate priorities such as fueling the economic recovery from the global pandemic to long standing issues such as addressing climate change.
To best deliver on this promise, companies using AI need to recruit passionate people from a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. AI-powered innovation holds significant promise for tackling the world’s problems – from immediate priorities such as fueling the economic recovery from the global COVID-19 pandemic to long-standing issues such as addressing climate change. To best deliver on this promise, AI companies need to recruit passionate people from a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. That will only happen if, as an industry, we create opportunities for talented people from underrepresented groups. The need is well documented. For example, in researching The Global Gender Gap Report 2018, the World Economic Forum discovered that women hold roughly 50 percent of all science and engineering degrees yet make up just 22 percent of AI professionals.
To address this, we must encourage young people from all backgrounds to consider STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers.
Promoting AI careers to young women
The Girls In AI Global Hackathons are a prime example of how to do this. Launched by Teens In AI founder Elena Sinel in 2018 after her daughter was discouraged from taking computer science and math courses in secondary school, these events introduce young women from around the world to the potential of AI to create meaningful change. The hackathons are designed to inspire the next generation of AI researchers, entrepreneurs, and leaders – even as they instill the importance of ethics and diversity in the teenagers who take part.
Earlier this year, as part of our partnership with Teens in AI, I was honored to help judge entries in the most recent Girls in AI global hackathon. This event took place online starting in March 2021. It involved almost 1,000 participants from 140 cities in 23 countries, making it the program’s most diverse hackathon to date.
Significantly, 78 percent of participants were young women, 90 percent were taking part in their first hackathon, and 72 percent had little or no prior coding experience. Powering the next generation of thought leaders, innovators and technologists in AI.
“As a judge, I was amazed at the challenges these young people tackled – proposing creative, AI-driven solutions for issues related to education, health, and the climate. The team members did a terrific job of defining their projects and created impressive prototypes to showcase their solutions. Their passion was inspiring, and matched by impressive technical skills in people so young.” – Anne-Laure Thieullent
These events benefit the girls – but also the adults who help run them. This is not just inspiring: It’s essential. In an interview with Capgemini after the event, Sinel noted that as countries around the world grapple with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the novel approaches that young minds bring to the challenges and their fresh perspectives on the power of AI will be critical to our success.
“I don’t see the economic recovery happening if we don’t invest in education and if we don’t invest in young people from an early age,” Elena Sinel said. “It’s so important because they will be the ones to help bring us out of the mess we’re in right now.”
Diversity of thought delivers better results
The future is AI-driven. Soon, AI will be a core enabler of every industry and every job will include some element of AI. Therefore, we need to ensure the AI-driven solutions we create are ethical and trusted – that they fix problems instead of exacerbating them.
The challenge today is that the AI sector remains not only male dominated, but also doesn’t bring full representation of the world we are living in – across all the dimensions. This causes problems for the solutions we create. They may be built on data that is biased, or they will be dominated by a single perspective or cater to a limited demographic.
The industry is addressing this and progress is being made, but more needs to be done. The answer is to foster “diversity of thought” in AI. We must engage with people – especially young people – from a range of backgrounds, experiences, and abilities. We need to demonstrate to them the power of AI to solve problems and encourage them to join us in that effort.
Palestinian team uses AI to tackle bullying
During the 2021 Girls in AI Global Hackathon, the Ataria Team from Palestine created “Express Yourself” – an app that asks a child to answer a few questions and to sketch drawings then uses AI to determine whether that child is being bullied. The four girls on the team – Aya, Naden, Nour, and Rahaf – won the Social Impact & Innovation Award and an opportunity to pitch their solution to leaders from Capgemini’s Innovation Community.
In addition, we are providing mentorship to this team through the Capgemini AI Academy program. Speaking through an interpreter, the girls report that the experience taught them about working in teams and helping others learn new skills, how to code in Python, how to use tools like business-model canvases, and how to build prototypes. They all enjoyed the experience, would like to participate in the next hackathon and are already thinking about how to use AI to design other health and wellness applications.
Diversity of thought makes AI better
It’s important that AI companies build teams that are diverse – in gender, age, ability, culture, and backgrounds – to ensure applications reflect all users and their needs.
It’s a two-way street
AI benefits when they get involved in programs to promote AI careers to young people and underrepresented groups – because these people bring passion and novel approaches to the task of applying AI to solve problems.
Action is needed now
In many countries, the pandemic wiped out years of progress towards creating more equitable futures for girls and other people who are underrepresented in the AI sector. Programs that help everyone explore career opportunities in AI are one way to rebuild that progress, even as they make the AI sector stronger.