27 September 2023

Meeting the women in Australia pioneering AI

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Among the fastest changes rising in the planet is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and it hasn’t been making its appearance without input from Australian women.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become increasingly common in our modern lives, and our dependence on it will continue to soar in coming years.

But despite its convenience, we know there are numerous unanswered questions and adverse impacts on women, with those at the fore of the industry mostly men.

This piece looks at the women in Australia who are pioneering AI and helping to shift the balance.

Meet Professor Svetha Venkatesh

Since the early 90s, professor Svetha Venkatesh has undertaken research in AI that has helped solve problems and make predictions more efficiently.

As an internationally renowned computer scientist, she has contributed to research in machine learning, probabilistic models, data mining, health analytics, multimedia, and social media analysis.

This research has led to new technologies in large-scale pattern recognition that sift through video data for anomalies that might represent security threats.

Her research has helped develop a health analytics program that enables doctors to predict suicide risk and assisted scientists in producing new alloys and biomaterials to streamline their experimental designs.

It has also contributed to the creation of the TOBY Playpad app, which provides therapy for children with autism by helping parents implement therapy at home and comprehensive plans on the iPad, as well as in real-world settings.

As the director of the Strategic Research Centre for Pattern Recognition and Data Analytics at Deakin University, she continues to expand her research – this March, her faculty received a $10 million donation from a business networking and financing company, Scale Facilitation to set up a collaborative AI and machine learning (ML) CoLab to develop next-generation AI technologies.

It is hoped that researchers at the Scale Facilitation will collaborate with Deakin to design cutting-edge AI solutions.

Professor Svetha Venkatesh emigrated to Australia from India in 1983, after she obtained degrees in Electrical Engineering, Electronics, and Telecommunications.

In 2004, she was elected a fellow of the International Association of Pattern Recognition for her research in the formulation and extraction of semantics in multimedia data.

In 2021, she was elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

Meet Kate Crawford

Kate Crawford wears many hats.

She’s a writer, composer, producer, and academic.

Her research on AI has appeared in TIME, The Washington Post, Nature, and she’s also written a book, Atlas of A.I, in 2021 which describes AI as a technology of extraction, and how it centralises power.

As a leading scholar of the social implications of AI, her work focuses on the political and social implications of the misuse of technological advances, leading to discrimination, especially against women.

The research professor at USC Annenberg created the first course studying digital media and its politics at the University of Sydney in 2002.

She believes we are now experiencing its most dramatic inflection point, as new AI technologies exploit workers and pollute the planet.

“It’s really important to understand that there are people who do what’s called reinforcement learning with human feedback,” she told Spanish media El Pais last month. “These are workers, often in the Global South, who are really essentially doing content moderation for companies that make AI.”

“If we look at generative AI, doing a search uses five times more energy than traditional searches. So, that is a huge carbon footprint that in many cases is hidden and unseen by most people.”

Beyond her role as a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research, which she has held for the last decade, she also makes time to collaborate with artists on projects and critical visual design.

In 2019, her project Anatomy of an AI System with Vladan Joler won the Beazley Design of the Year Award and was placed into the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

Her essay and app collaboration with the artist Trevor Paglen, Excavating.ai “The Politics of Images in Machine Learning Training Sets” won the Ayrton Prize from the British Society for the History of Science.

Meet Professor Lyria Bennett Moses

AI has many social implications on how we live, which means that there are also legal impacts we might need to consider.

This is something professor Lyria Bennett Moses, the director of the UNSW Allens Hub and associate dean of research at UNSW Law & Justice, has been thinking about for many years.

Professor Bennett Moses believes that AI is a growing part of court processes.

She says that AI is becoming increasingly popular in courts and tribunals and that there are benefits and concerns about its compatibility with fundamental values.

Her research has proposed updates to the Australian curricula on statistics and modelling to include more recent examples of data processing to educate young students on how this data is being used.

“While not every high school student needs to be able to code a machine learning algorithm, young people need to understand what’s going on behind these systems so they can properly assess their use as future citizens, consumers or in a professional capacity,” she said in 2019.

In February, she said the invention of ChatGPT has positive ramifications in the courtroom, comparing the technology to a calculator for a maths student.

As the co-lead of the Law and Policy theme in the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre and Faculty lead in the UNSW Institute for Cyber Security, she is also a published author, writing a book with Dr Michael Guihot in 2020 addressing the legal and policy issues associated with the use of AI.

Meet Professor Mary-Anne Williams

Since she received her PhD in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Sydney almost three decades ago, Professor Mary-Anne Williams has been a leading data scientist focusing on cognitive science, disruptive technologies, and digital transformation.

She uses a transdisciplinary approach, including human-centric methods from behavioural economics to machine learning to improve entrepreneurship, data analytics, and social robots.

She was formerly the director of the Magic Lab at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and a fellow at Stanford University, where she led social robotics research groups and studied the risks and challenges of AI with industry leaders including co-founder of Apple Inc, Steve Wozniak.

Since 2020, when she was named the Michael Crouch Chair in Innovation at the UNSW Business School, professor Mary-Anne Williams has worked with the broader innovation community to grow entrepreneurship across the University and accelerate innovative thinking in Australia.

When she received her position, she said her main focus would be “to engage and help energise the UNSW community in innovation and entrepreneurship”.

“There is an urgent imperative for universities, business and government to collaborate in multi-disciplinary efforts to intensify and scale innovation that can deliver societal benefits essential for a prosperous future,” she said.

“Our entrepreneurs will continue to play a critical role in driving economic activity and building societal resilience as they reimagine and radically transform people’s lives, business and society.”

In 2019, she won the Australasian Distinguished Artificial Intelligence Contribution Award. That same year, she led the UTS Social Robotics team to victory at the 2019 RoboCup World Championship in Social Robotics.

Meet Barb Hyman

Described this month as heading “one of Australia’s most quietly successful artificial intelligence companies” Barb Hyman started out as a lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills in Melbourne, but quickly realised she wasn’t using her best skills.

She then became a strategy consultant at Boston Consulting Group before she was transferred to an HR role at the firm.

There, she saw the way people were being recruited and didn’t like the system. That was when she thought of a new business idea to improve how both data and diversity were prioritised in hiring decisions.

In 2018, Hyma launched Sapia.ai – an AI-driven recruiting program that is programmed against biases such as gender, race, class, education history and instead, tests the candidate’s strongest aptitude for a particular role.

It is already being used by some of Australia’s biggest companies including Qantas, Holland & Barrett, Suncorp, Bunnings, and Woolworths.

Last year, the company won a prestigious innovation award for its “AI Smart Interviewer” technology at the Viva Technology conference in Paris — where Hyman said, “There is nothing else that can remove bias, deliver a world-class consumer experience, and create F1 pit crew level efficiency”.

“Our steadfast approach to ethics and the scientific method has demonstrated that our product can truly innovate, and provide recruiters and companies with the peace of mind they need to trust automation.”

*This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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