Women and Artificial Intelligence. Impossible without them.
International Women's Day commemorates the incredible struggle of half of humanity to be seen as equal by the other half and, sadly, by some of the women themselves. Because it is incredible that they have to fight for their rights; It is incredible that those that are recognized today in almost all the world, not all, are less than 200 years old; Incredible is that still, in the third decade of the 21st century, they must continue fighting against prejudices and anachronistic beliefs and traditions.
n 2020, the celebration of International Women's Day had historical importance in Mexico. To express their satiety of a battle that is not only against inequality, but also against impunity and daily violence against them, tens of thousands of women took to the streets in various cities of the country and the following day carried out a national strike of protest. In this way, on March 9, 2020 we saw an incomplete Mexico, aimless and meaningless. On March 9, 2020 we saw a Mexico without them.
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Based on differences that exist only in our minds, we maintain a society in which, among other problems, access and / or the possibility of advancing in various areas of human endeavor are limited for women. A clear example is science and technology, where misconceptions about the role and capacity of women, as well as the inadequate culture of traditionally male groups and institutions, discourage and make women's participation more difficult.
This has led to a clear underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. According to UNESCO data, globally only 28% of higher education students in the areas of information and communications technologies are women, and only 27% in the areas of engineering, manufacturing and construction. If this data were 100% the result of young women's free preferences and decisions there would be no problem, but we know that is not the case.
Promoting greater participation of women in these disciplines requires not only a full awareness and recognition of their ability, but also recognition and dissemination of their contributions. This is especially true in a field such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is radically transforming industries and economies, as well as our expectations of the future, and whose social and ethical implications make the broad presence and participation of women indispensable.
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Perhaps the first outstanding female contribution in the field of computing and what would later be AI was that of Ada Lovelace in the nineteenth century. Lovelace is the author of the first algorithm published in history, a program to calculate Bernoulli’s numbers on Babbage's analytical machine. Ada expressed an early view of the extensive uses of the computer, which she claimed could come to compose music by manipulating symbols, although she categorically denied the possibility that a system could ever become intelligent.
Throughout the history of AI, women’s contribution has always been constant. In his book on the history of this field, Nils J. Nilson reports on the contribution of women in the development of important research, systems and algorithms in various AI subfields. These include:
Today the female contribution to the development and application of AI in academic institutions, businesses and governments, is richer and more dynamic than ever. To note this, it is sufficient to review the lists of women highlighted in AI, machine learning and data science that are published by several media organizations. Among them it is worth mentioning IBM’s annual list of women pioneers in the use of AI in business, which in 2019 included the Mexican Claudia Ignacio.
Now, to promote greater participation of women in AI and machine learning there are organizations such as Women in AI, a community-driven initiative of more than 3,500 women in more than 100 countries, which provides empowerment, knowledge and collaboration to women interested in developing in this field, through education, research, events and blogging. In Mexico, the ambassador of this organization is Susan Verdiguel, an active member of C Minds, a young group dedicated to the promotion of AI with social benefit.
Such initiatives are essential to complement the public policies that must be implemented to attract to these disciplines young women whose talent is there, waiting only for guidance and an opportunity, to bear fruit from the early on for the benefit of science and to be a source of pride for their community and country. Such is the case of Sarahí Aguilar, a young graduate student whose work was recognized a few weeks ago as the best at the Latin American Artificial Intelligence Summit organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In these days when women's tireless struggle for equality and la security becomes more noticeable, it is encouraging to know that, in a field like IA, just as it happens in any area of human activity in which they decide and may participate, the contribution of women is indispensable and enriching. There they are, present in the construction of a better future, even if we won’t or can’t see them.
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