Tech for Good: AI4ALL’s Trailblazing Path to Fair Ai

Tech for Good: AI4ALL’s Trailblazing Path to Fair Ai

America and the world is in the middle of a Ai ‘adjustment’…Large Language Models are creeping into every facet of peoples lives. We at Happy Future Ai believe that we are going to need groups and individuals who take the lead in keeping ‘AI’ at least somewhat FAIR….Today we talk to Emily Reed CEO of AI4ALL a group working for inclusion in the Ai space.

Emily and her team are working to change the staggering workforce imbalance in AI through education, skills training and mentorship programs specifically for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, women and non-binary college students – those historically excluded from tech and AI specifically.

The nonprofit partners with major entities like General Motors, Nielsen, Motorola and Capital One and well-known universities.

Prior to AI4ALL, Emily was the founding Director of Education at Girls Who Code, where she led a team that taught over 30,000 girls to code and trained over 2,000 computer science educators.

Happy Future Ai

  1. What motivated the founding of AI4ALL and what core values are central to the organization’s mission?

AI4ALL was founded to foster profound systemic change in AI that drives a more inclusive, human-centered discipline. We want AI practitioners to genuinely reflect the breadth and depth of the communities we serve. Accomplishing this goal will ensure those most impacted by this transformational technology can also shape its direction. 

There is also ample evidence that companies and organizations that prioritize inclusion see better business outcomes and are more innovative than those that don’t, but these companies still struggle to fill their pipeline with candidates who have traditionally been underrepresented in tech. AI4ALL prioritizes and lifts up historically excluded students, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to rise to their full potential.

Our core values are centered around inclusion, humanity, agency and education. We admire and celebrate the whole person and believe in each individual’s unique potential. We put people at the center of our work, and support systems and technology that benefit humanity. We believe every person can be an agent of positive change when provided the resources and support to excel. And of course, we are educators. We believe the way to enact change is through education

  1. Can you share some of the most impactful initiatives or projects AI4ALL has undertaken in its quest to democratize access to AI education?

Since AI4ALL’s beginnings as an AI summer education pilot program for high school girls at Stanford University in 2015, the organization has supported students from historically excluded groups from high school through college and into their careers. Between 2015 and 2022, AI4ALL Summer Programs grew from one university partnership to 16 partnerships, allowing AI4ALL Summer Programs to serve a global audience of students from historically excluded groups, including Black, Hispanic and Latinx, and Indigenous students, women, and high school students with demonstrated financial need. Our data shows the thousands of students we served directly went on to educate, on average, another 13 of their peers, creating a global wave of change.

In 2019, AI4ALL launched AI4ALL Open Learning. Open Learning empowered high school teachers of all subjects to bring AI education to their classrooms through a free, adaptable AI curriculum and teacher resources. This curriculum focused on social impact, ethics, and interdisciplinary uses for AI, and made it easy for high school teachers to equip their students with future-proof skills. More than 4,000 teachers and students have used the Open Learning curriculum.

In 2020, AI4ALL launched AI4ALL College Pathways, an initiative designed to equip undergraduate students to make a direct and ethical impact on the AI field as quickly as possible.

In late 2022, AI4ALL announced a strategic pivot to create more focus on where AI4ALL can have the most immediate impact: accelerating college students from historically excluded groups to attain internships and research opportunities in AI. 

Now, over 2,600 high school and college students have completed our programs and an additional estimated 4,000 have used our curriculum.

  1. How has AI4ALL adapted its approach to cater to diverse communities and ensure equitable access to AI education for all?

AI4ALL calls in the next generation of Changemakers who will transform the way AI is developed and used. To accomplish this, we seek students from communities that have been excluded in the AI space–we work with university and college career services offices, professors, and campus affinity groups to help identify students who may be interested in our programs.

Then we help students build identity in the field, and tap into their own agency and initiative as they build technical and leadership skills. Our programs give students opportunities to build skills, networks, and knowledge bases that will help them stand out in the AI internship application process.

Although anyone is welcome to apply, AI4ALL prioritizes students whose race, gender, or ethnicity has been historically excluded from AI. We uplift students from the following intersections and identities: Black, Hispanic and Latinx/e, and Indigenous folks; and women and non-binary folks.

  1. What are some of the biggest challenges AI4ALL faces in its mission to bridge the AI skills gap, and how are you working to overcome them?

The future of AI is the responsibility of us all, and one of the greatest challenges for the tech industry as a whole is the dearth of partnerships among the public and private sectors. We have made great strides in our work by collaborating with academic institutions and major corporations, and believe this kind of model is what is needed to enact meaningful change. In order for AI to be developed and deployed responsibly, we need a diversity of people and perspectives working on the issues.   

  1. What excites you the most about the future of AI education and how does AI4ALL envision playing a role in shaping it?

AI permeates nearly every aspect of our lives today. Even those who do not work in the tech industry hear about developments in the AI space on a daily basis. The subject has become top of mind for everyone. I’m hopeful that this kind of information saturation piques the interest of many who may have never considered a career in tech. AI is only in its infancy, and there’s a lot of excitement surrounding it. I think this will bode well as far as more people seeking out AI education, and a subsequent career in AI.

We’re actively playing a role in the future of AI education through our partnerships with universities and corporations. We’ve gathered seven-plus years of learnings and insights from both parties that lend to a collective effort to entice and educate AI talent, and then help them flourish in the professional world. We gather a lot of insights from our corporate partners about what they are striving to achieve when it comes to AI and what kind of skills they are looking for. We share this information with academic partners and align curriculum so that students are positioned for success upon entering their first AI job.

On Personal Journey and Insights:

  1. As a leader in the AI field, what personal experiences or observations have shaped your passion for democratizing AI knowledge?

We all know that technology is a male-dominated field. I’ve experienced numerous instances where I was singled out or doubted because of my gender. I’m used to being one of the only women in the room, especially when it comes to meetings with people in leadership roles.

I know that AI can provide significant economic and professional opportunity to individuals regardless of sex, gender, geography, race and socioeconomic status. In fact, AI is predicted to increase the global economy by $15.7T by 2030, according to PriceWaterhouseCooper. That is massive. Yet, as an illustration of the current gender imbalance in AI, only 13.83% of AI researchers in the world are women as of March 2019 according to Nesta.

  1. What are some of the biggest misconceptions you encounter about AI and how do you strive to debunk them?

There’s a lot of buzz about the potential negatives of AI, such as AI gaining consciousness. It’s only human to worry about our ongoing existence, and we often have a propensity to dwell on the negative.

It is far too soon for anyone to identify the full potential of AI as we are in the infancy of AI at this moment in time. I have a positive outlook and believe that we have the power to shape the AI of the future by ensuring the next generation of AI talent is governed by ethics and fully prepared to manage such significant potential risk.

  1. In your opinion, what are the most crucial skills individuals need to develop to thrive in a world increasingly driven by AI?

Those who work in AI must maintain a sense of humanity and critical thinking. We as humans hold the power and responsibility of developing AI tools that ultimately serve us. Related, and of great importance, is the need for ethics. Much of the concern we see surrounding the future of AI has to do with bad actors having an outsized role in its development and proliferation. I’m heartened regularly when I speak with AI4ALL Changemakers, because they display admirable dedication to and knowledge of responsible AI.

  1. What advice would you give to young people, particularly those from underrepresented groups, who are interested in pursuing careers in AI?

Go for it! There could not be a more perfect time for underrepresented individuals to get involved in AI. We are at a turning point where the future of AI – the responsible development and implementation of it – depends greatly on all involved from coders to C-level decision makers. If the AI workforce continues to be comprised of white men, AI tools will continue to reflect the views and lived experiences of this one homogenous group of people.

While representation of Black, Hispanic and Latinx/e, and Indigenous folks, and women and non-binary folks is sorely lacking today, I’m hopeful that will change soon, and quickly. Our Changemakers are on their way to those roles as programmers, strategists, and eventually C-level executives.

  1. Beyond technical skills, what qualities or mindsets do you believe are essential for responsible and ethical development and implementation of AI?

One must have humanity. As noted, we put people at the center of our work, and support systems and technology that benefit humanity. AI should serve us as people. That demands prioritization of ethics and responsible AI over power and money.

  1. AI4ALL often emphasizes “human-centered AI.” Can you elaborate on this concept and how it guides your work?

Human-centered AI is AI that is designed to collaborate with and augment human thought and creativity, rather than to replace it. This value permeates through all of our curriculum, and plays a role in who we partner with when it comes to companies, educators and mentors.

  1. The ethical implications of AI are a growing concern. How does AI4ALL address these concerns and promote responsible AI development?

Responsible AI and the ethical implications of AI are infused in all parts of our curriculum across all of our programs. This includes both theoretical considerations (what is responsible AI, why is it important) as well as practical information about how to apply responsible AI frameworks to your work as you select data, and develop and deploy models. We also feature guest speakers from corporations who speak about their roles and highlight how responsible and ethical AI practices figure into their work. 

  1. Collaboration is key to tackling complex challenges. What role do you see partnerships playing in AI4ALL’s future endeavors?

I couldn’t agree more. No one university, company or nonprofit can tackle present and future challenges alone. We would not be able to do what we do without our partnerships with colleges and universities, as well as private-sector corporations. We currently work closely with US higher education institutions to recruit students for our training and education programs that supplement what students are learning in the classroom. And we partner with dozens of companies to manage internships and training programs to prepare students for real-world challenges.

  1. AI is constantly evolving. How does AI4ALL stay ahead of the curve and ensure its educational resources remain relevant and impactful?

As mentioned, we tap corporate sponsors to help inform our curriculum, including what they see as opportunities in the AI space, and what skill sets they seek when it comes to hiring their workforce. Additionally, our organization was founded by noted AI researchers Dr. Fei-Fei Li and Dr. Olga Russakovsky. Their deep connection with the AI field from an academic and cutting-edge research perspective help guide our approach and our educational resources as well.

  1. Looking back on your journey with AI4ALL, what are you most proud of and what lessons have you learned along the way?

I’m most proud of our Changemakers (what we call our program participants and alumni). They truly are the future of AI, and I know we are in good hands.

Some fast facts: 88% of alumni are pursuing or plan to pursue a degree or coursework in CS/AI at the college level; 86% of alumni are interested in a career in AI; and 50% of alumni attained an internship in 2021. We’ll soon be releasing more recent data on the accomplishments of our Changemakers in our 2023 annual report.

One ever-present lesson is that the AI field is always changing. You can see this through the recent explosion of generative AI and how quickly it is reshaping so many roles and functions that were assumed to be relatively stable. It’s an exciting time to be doing this work, because there is so much potential for impact. 

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