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2018 Poised to Be a Breakout Year for Women in AI

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Currently 13.5 percent of the machine-learning professionals in the U.S. workforce are female. While those statistics might not inspire hope about the current gender gap in the field, major new AI policy and advocacy groups have recently emerged, aiming to change the way AI is designed and implemented – and all are headed by women.

The Partnership for AI, a consortium made up of major industry firms like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, recently hired Terah Lyons, former policy advisor to the U.S. chief technology officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), as executive director. The goal of Partnership for AI is to “advance public understanding of artificial intelligence technologies (AI) and formulate best practices on the challenges and opportunities within the field.” With funding from some of the biggest tech firms in the world, it’s poised to help shape policy and thinking around AI at the federal level.

AI Now, a research institute at NYU, was officially launched in the fall of 2017 by Kate Crawford, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and Meredith Whittaker, a founder of Google Open Research. The group’s primary focus is to ensure that the engineers making AI algorithms are working closely with the people who will use them, and gender-balanced workforces are key to ensuring this kind of appropriate product delivery.

AI4ALL, a nonprofit that puts on summer programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley to teach AI to diverse groups of high school students, is also dedicated to boosting women’s access to AI training. Co-founded by computer vision expert Olga Russakovsky, the group received funding from the Melinda Gates Foundation this year and will be expanding to four more universities in 2018, focusing on teaching female, minority and low-income students.

During a recent appearance at the MIT Technology Review, Russakovsky noted that her experiences so far with AI4ALL give her hope. “I don’t know if things will change (immediately) in 2018, but the shift has started,” she said. “The change will happen with the next wave of students.”

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