Besides being a hot topic these days, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain have received a reputation for being especially male-dominated in an already bro-saturated tech world. However, the buzz around artificial intelligence and cryptography isn’t without merit, as these technologies are much more than just one more thing to be mansplained.
According to Risk Group Founder, Jayshree Pandya PhD. “It’s expected that soon, artificial intelligence will combine the intricacy and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence with the speed, memory and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence.” Similarly, decentralized blockchain systems have the potential to change our lives from the way we do business, to the way we drive, vote, make purchases and even prove our identity.
With such diverse and far-reaching applications, it is clear that a diversity of perspectives will be necessary to create effective and sustainable solutions. I interviewed some of the most innovative female voices in AI and blockchain to better understand their struggle to ensure that this technology benefits everyone.
BEENA AMMANATH, Founder & CEO – Humans for AI
Having held executive tech leadership roles for several Fortune 500 companies, Ammanath is no stranger to what it takes to rise up the ranks to top leadership as a woman of color. Early in her career, she was called a quadruple minority. While hearing this in casual conversation is fine, when this is brought up in a work setting, it can have a debilitating effect on confidence.
I started to doubt every opportunity – are they approaching me because I fit a certain category or because of my capabilities? It was a humbling experience.
Her realization of the rapidly increasing adoption of artificial intelligence and desire to create an inclusive platform to foster innovation inspired Ammanath to form Humans For AI.
The non-profit believes humanity must control the pace of AI as it is woven into the fabric of our lives. Through education, community and inclusion, Humans For AI wants to demystify AI to enable and empower the workforce of the future to be AI-savvy. It also aims to broaden the pipeline of minorities now in tech careers, and those seeking to move into AI by being the go-to-destination for all things AI.
In spite of the challenges she’s faced along the way, Ammanath encourages all women to be proud of their roots and embrace their cultural differences.
Those with diverse backgrounds are able to see nuances and challenges where others don’t. As a woman of color, we are often more loud, more boisterous and more emotional and that has always helped every leadership team I have been part of, by pushing assumptions that a leadership team has. It’s helped me grow in maturity and tap into strengths I didn’t even know I had. If things had been easy, I would not be learning, and the victory would not taste as sweet.
LAURA GÓMEZ, Founder & CEO – Atipica
Gómez is reimagining inclusivity in the hiring process. This impressive young woman has been in the tech industry since she was 17, with past employers such as YouTube and Twitter. As a result, Gómez knows all about the homogeneous nature of tech culture. Besides serving as a Diversity Council Member for Code.org and Women of Color Council Member for the Anita Borg Institute, Gómez launched Atipica – which is building the world’s first inclusive AI for the talent life cycle. Customers of Atipica include Netflix and Patreon.
Gómez has a thing or two to say about the problem of bias in hiring platforms.
Gomez continues, “It’s a classic tech bro move that companies like Google and Microsoft pull all the time — they did not think critically about how their technology would disadvantage certain groups, like women.”
In addition to building and running Atipica, Gomez also pursues her passion for diversity through her work as Founding Member and Adviser for Project Include – a non-profit organization that uses data and advocacy to speed up diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry.
It’s not rocket science, explains Gomez, “Diverse teams simply perform better. Especially in HR tech.”
BREANNE BUTLER, Co-founder – The Women’s March
You might recognize Butler’s name from her work as co-founder of the international Women’s March. What you might not know is that Butler is a pastry chef at Facebook and is using her passion for baked goods to explore blockchain implications for the restaurant industry.
There’s so much potential…. from transparency in where ingredients are sourced to closing the pay gap between the front and back of house, it could be revolutionary.
During her travels in the past year, Butler discovered that many of the issues concerning women in their communities could be solved significantly through blockchain. Not surprisingly, Butler is quickly becoming a leading advocate for inclusion in blockchain/crypto.
LATANYA SWEENEY, former CTO of the Federal Trade Commission and Harvard Professor
Sweeney’s research has been revolutionary in bringing awareness to the presence of racial bias in machine learning algorithms. As a Professor of Government and Technology at Harvard and Director of Harvard’s Data Privacy Lab, Sweeney exposed discrimination in online advertising.
Sweeney’s research found that internet searches of names “racially associated” with Black culture were 25 percent more likely to result in ads for legal or bail services, in other words “suggesting that the person has a criminal record, regardless of the truth.”
Thanks to Sweeney’s investigative reporting, we also know that zip codes with a large proportion of Asian residents are charged nearly double by SAT test prep services.
Sweeney is challenging the notion that mathematical algorithms are unbiased – after all, machine-learning code is built by developers, which up until now have been primarily white males.
ANNIE BROWN, Founder & CEO – Lips
Lips is a sharing platform with a social mission: to improve the mental-health and self-esteem of its readers by providing an uncensored space for signed or anonymous artistic expression.
Lips founder Annie Brown believes that one of the most impactful applications of blockchain could be its role in reducing the negative impact of technology (especially social media) on young women’s mental health.
“The Internet as it exists today is not a great place for women,” says Brown, “this is in part because the majority of technologies that make up our online communities were created by men.”
Brown believes that “ diversity in tech matters because technology is political, and who makes decisions in technology matters. ” As such, Lips aims to integrate feminist philosophy directly into their UX, code and algorithms with the aim of building a better Internet for everyone, especially young women.
Cryptography, according to Brown, presents the opportunity to have honest discussions on the internet, rather than carefully crafted/Photoshopped distortions of reality we see today in social media.
Using blockchain technology, women can post anything anonymously while still claiming authorship and being compensated. For young women, this could mean online expressive outlets that are safe, healthy and lucrative.
IMOGEN HEAP, Founder – Mycelia
You might recognize her name from her successful music career, but Imogen Heap is now taking on the world of blockchain and AI. “Blockchain has the potential to benefit everyone due to its decentralized nature, and when combined with developments in ownership around our digital identities and how AI can aid discovery,” she says,
We are headed for a future of work, where we’ll get to do more of what we are good at, and what we enjoy, on the merits of what we’ve done.[/tweet_quote]
The music industry has infamously aged systems. There are 240 royalty collection societies alone, most of them with their own databases trying to cope with trillions of lines of data. This doesn’t even include the thousands of publishers and labels, radio stations, streaming companies and record stores who have their own. Up to 50% of royalties don’t reach their rightful owners and that’s reason enough to make a change.
Heap’s company, Mycelia, is using emergent blockchain technology to launch the Creative Passport – the passport is unique to each music maker, empowers them to be data organized, contains verified personal information, works and business partners. It also promotes template ‘smart contracts’ to speed up payments and encourage meaningful creative and commercial partnerships.
The singer and tech founder has noticed a certain “bro culture” in the blockchain space, which she quickly steps away from. However, even though it’s early stages still for blockchain, the timing is advantageous for women tech leaders, especially those seeking visibility for their companies or causes, as conferences are eager to reach equality and diversity on the speaker lists, panels or fireside chats.
The Mycelia Team have been traveling around Europe on a 40-city tour as part of the official launch ‘Creative Passport’ – realizing a vision of the future that sees music makers connected through a verified and decentralized peer-to-peer ecosystem, promoting artist-led, fair and sustainable operating practices.
It’s hard to imagine that in 10 years from now, music and the arts will be a good business to get into, but this is where it’s heading if we get it right.
LIANE THOMPSON, CEO, Founder Aquaai
Liane Thompson, is the founder and CEO of Aquaai Corporation, an AI and robotics company with a mission to protect our oceans with sustainability in mind.
Liane and her husband / business partner Simeon Pieterkosky founded the company after his daughter asked him to apply his vast knowledge in robotics to “saving the seas.” The answer… a biomimetic robotic fish named Nammu, with a design inspired by Mother Nature, that swims and “thinks” like a real fish. The semi-autonomous Nammu platform carries a payload of a number of advanced technologies including ballistic testing cameras, numerous sensors for data collection, AI, and computer vision. The flexible fish-like robot is able to withstand rough seas and seamlessly adapt to its habitat without disturbing the natural underwater ecosystem.
Having lived around the world and across multiple continents, all while raising her first daughter as a single mom, Liane has never let anything stand in the way of her success, and she is eager to see women leading by example, taking action and not letting anything or anyone hold them back.
Due to collective social views, Liane does feel there may be a propensity for AI to be encoded with bias toward women, and that needs to be addressed at the cultural level by the execs at the top. “Strong and unbiased leadership that treats women fairly means having positive corporate cultural values that are communicated from the top down. Leading with kindness and mutual respect on a peer to peer level puts a focus on character over gender.”
Liane and the Aquaai team are excited by the unique opportunity to empower ocean stewards with data and knowledge in a cost effective new way. Their “Fish as a Service” platform now enables the growing aquaculture industry, which supplies 50% of the world’s seafood, to make more sustainable decisions related to feed and the environment, plus respond more rapidly to potential threats farms face such as low oxygen levels or disease. In the future, Nammu, the robotic fish will also aid in spotting illegal fishing activity, as it will be able to record the unique audio signature of each boat. Ultimately, Nammu is an advanced warning system that has the power to learn different behaviors, complete tasks, spot anomalies and grow its knowledge base.
Data forms the foundation of our understanding of the seas, and it’s exciting to move forward intelligent systems that can be used to make a positive impact in ocean health, coral reef restoration and aquaculture, not to mention mitigate risk especially in a time when coastal flooding is becoming more frequent.
THERESA HOANG, Founder – Women’s Crypto Playground
“Bro culture is based on lack of respect and reckless behavior that doesn’t benefit anyone – it’s toxic,” says Theresa Hoang. “My approach is to build the community I’d like to see thrive in the crypto economy and focus on projects that are working towards solving real problems.”
Women’s Crypto Playground is a platform that celebrates and empowers women in tech by providing blockchain learning resources to female developers and connecting them with entrepreneurs . Hoang’s vision for the company is to educate and inspire businesses that use blockchain technology for good and to contribute to a world where business opportunities are available to all regardless of gender, race, social class or location.
Hoang also speaks to the importance of the support and inclusion of women of color in this space,
Blockchain technology is shaping the tools of the future, and we need perspectives that reflect how the world actually looks if it’s going to reach its full potential.
VIVIE-ANN BAKOS, Co-founder – Artemis Collective
Vivie-Ann Bakos is the co-founder of Artemis Collective — an all female Venture Capital fund investing in decentralized projects with an ethically driven crypto portfolio focused on running masternodes. Bakos is also widely known as half of the renowned DJ duo, BLOND:ISH.
Bakos believes that women play an integral role in the development of technology, and are an asset in infinite ways, especially to “this disruptive innovation known as blockchain.”
When it comes to dismantling bro-culture, Bakos has some ideas. “Instead of giving attention to the bro culture, — let’s focus on coming back to balance.” She explains, “Let’s focus on different ways to approach brainstorming and innovation.”
Bakos believes a more “heart-centered” approach to technology would be a step in the right direction to inspire more women to come into blockchain.
JESS HOULGRAVE, COO & Co-Founder – Codex Protocol
Jess Houlgrave echoes the call for more women in blockchain, “The blockchain industry is highly creative and heavily reliant on collaboration. These are things that women tend to excel at.”
As with Bakos, Houlgrave is one of the founding members of shEOS – the first (and only) female-founded block producer on the EOS network. Their mission is to bring diversity to blockchain by empowering women with technical education and a supportive community.
Houlgrave says she meets lots of women who are interested and excited by blockchain but find it inaccessible, “shEOS is a stepping stone for women into the broader EOS and blockchain community.”
Autumn Moss Penaloza, Community Director for shEOS added,“Diversity is integral to realizing the full potential of blockchain technology. ”
Houlgrave, Bakos, Rose, Penaloza and the rest of the shEOS team are also building the shEOS Foundation, which will provide technology scholarships to young women in marginalized communities.
Be sure to follow these women, and the many others working to build an inclusive, intelligent and decentralized Internet.
Sandra Ponce de Leon is an entrepreneur, startup advisor, and techno-optimist with a focus on social impact technologies such as Blue-tech, AI, blockchain and iOT. Follow @sandramp
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