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More women needed to drive AI revolution: Dr Kevyn Yong

16 Oct 2019

The wider world of computer science is well known for being male-dominated. In Artificial Intelligence (AI), a fast advancing technology that many agree will shape our life in future, women are even more grossly underrepresented, a concern that is shared by Dr Kevyn Yong, SIM's Chief Learning Office​r​.

In trying to identify the gender gap in the AI talent pool, the World Econo​​​mic Forum surveyed Linkedln users who self-identified as possessing AI skills. The study showed that 78% of them are male. sampled AI researchers from three AI conference​​s in machine learning and machine vision in 2017 and found that across 23 countries, 88% of the researchers are men.

Why would this imbalance in gender participation in AI be of concern? For one, if AI has the potential to make decisions and affect the lives of a large part of our population, a more diverse view and perspective will be important in ensuring AI development will not be based on the biases of its creators and the data that its creators feed it. If we want a balanced perspective in the new world of AI, more women need to be involved in the revolution.

Among others, one reason why so few women work in the field of AI is because most women didn't grow up playing computer games, said Dr Yong. However, he said that there is no real substantive reason why women are incapable of working in the field of AI, given that women are just as likely as men to have taken classes in mathematics and statistics – the foundational skills and knowledge upon which AI is based. In fact, one of the pioneer computer scientists working on AI and the first person to successfully develop a way to convert English terms into machine code was Grace Hopper!

Indeed, Dr Yong thinks that women will perform well in the age of AI, given their natural strength in learning new languages – learning how to code for AI is really about learning a new language. ​The adoption of machines and algorithms in the workplace will create 133 million new jobs, compared to 75 million lost by 2022. As AI is further applied throughout business, healthcare, cybersecurity and other domains, these applications will also need to be paired with high EQ. While machines can become better and bette​r at doing routine tasks quickly and accurately and applying its data-based experience and judgment in determining a course of action, it can never take over the job of helping people navigate the course of action.

For instance, AI might be able to diagnose an illness and recommend a course of treatment better than a doctor. But it does not have the ability to understand a patient's life situation (such as finances, family, quality of life), empathise and encourage on an emotional level, or help determine which treatment plan is optimal for the patient.

Emotional intelligence skills such as influencing, persuading, social understanding and empathy, skills which women are generally strong in, will be heightened in humans and make them indispensable as machine learning and AI take over.

Dr Yong whose expertise and research are in creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership, with a focus on design thinking, strategic leadership, leading change and digital transformation, and AI, was recently a panellist at the second edition of Women's Forum Asia held in Singapore from 18-20 September 2019.

Dr Yong (1st from left) with the moderator and other panellists at the Women's Forum Asia 2019. (Photo: Sonal Saxena​).

The Women's Forum Asia comes under the ambit of the Women's Forum for the Economy ​& Society, which is an international platform looking at major social and economic issues from female perspectives. This year's forum took the theme 'Taking the lead for inclusion: Accelerating through diversity', and garnered 1,500 leaders and trailblazers from across the region and the world to connect on how wome​​n's leadership can accelerate revolutionary and inclusive changes in communities, organisations and economies. ​

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