Blog: Women Leading the AI Industry, “Find your calling.” with Jane Nemcova and Tyler Gallagher
Find your calling. Work in AI because you love the way it integrates with something you’re passionate about, not because it’s the hot new thing. Educate yourself for life, not just for work. Having a well-rounded knowledge base will pay off when working with AI. Be confident in showing what you know.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Nemcova, Managing Director of Machine Intelligence at Lionbridge, a leading globalization and localization company, with more than 15 years of experience in the language service industry and machine intelligence. As a company rooted in translation, Lionbridge has grown to be a leading expert in linguistics, AI and data quality. Nemcova helps companies develop intelligent systems to improve language understanding and generation, word, phrase and image recognition and search and map information relevance for more than 450 locales in 200 countries.
Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?
Growing up bilingual, speaking French and English, led me to a passion for an education in language and philosophy. As my career in localization grew, so did technological applications for localization and translation.
Development of machine learning came naturally to me because of my interest and understanding of how the brain works and how humans engage with each other and technology. My work in philosophy helped me understand the purpose of artificial intelligence and how various linguistic and data components support it.
My passion for language was a springboard for building natural language solutions. Language is a complex and beautiful thing, and it becomes an intriguing problem to solve when it needs to be analyzed, produced and understood by intelligent machines, with the right approach, data and clarity of purpose.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
The AI industry needs people with talents in liberal arts and related classical studies. As machines learn and become more capable, those with broader and deeper knowledge can help apply AI in creative, innovative ways. A classical interdisciplinary approach considers not only data, but also its context. It asks not only what and how, but why and whether. Understanding how an effort fits into a broader story has served me well in business and can be a competitive differentiator for people interested in joining this industry.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I’m lucky enough to work on some exciting and well-known AI products and services that are central to daily life around the world. We use AI every day without even thinking about it — in our homes, our cars, our places of business. Improving these products improves our quality of life. At Lionbridge, we are the people behind the scenes helping to improve user experiences. We use human intelligence to help provide machine training data to constantly make the product smarter and more effective.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Mike Paietta was my college Euclidean geometry professor. He brought an encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of subjects — language, math, science, music, astronomy, philosophy, literature — to every conversation. We both had an appreciation for film, speech, accents, mannerisms and music. It was typical for us to recreate entire scenes from films during a conversation. He was not only an instrumental teacher for me, but became a dear friend and supporter in my intellectual development.
While interning at Stanford Hospital, I developed a close friendship with an interpreter named Julia Kheifets. She had survived WWII as a Jewish refugee and was a doctor in Germany following the war. While she was not able to practice medicine when she moved to the U.S., she used her linguistic expertise and medical background to interpret for patients who didn’t speak English. I learned so much from her experience, linguistic knowledge, understanding of history and politics, not to mention her incredible domain expertise, which rivalled some of the doctors. She encouraged me at a critical time in my education to pursue my linguistic development and supported me as a friend and mentor.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
1. AI is combining with other industries to play a role in almost every aspect of our lives, and thus the strategies of the top technology companies are changing and shaping a new workforce and economy.
2. AI is helping to retain and reestablish endangered languages. Many languages throughout the world are dying, whether from politics or the prioritization of the world’s most-used languages in business. By reinforcing languages that may appear to have less commercial value, the AI industry is helping bring them back.
3. Important companies are thinking about cognition first and commercial value second. Commercial value is still a major factor in decision-making, but the focus is shifting on how people think and communicate.
4. Scalability is of crucial value. Our AI team has hired more than 150,000 new workers in over 450 locales[PV1] . To support our work with more remote languages, we partner with local institutions and find creative ways to enhance communities and solve challenges.
5. AI is shifting our view and considerations around local employment understanding, security and legal regulations. While this may be a challenge and threat, it’s also driving more discussion at a global level about what the very definition of ethics is and how we are considering happiness and knowledge as matters of principle.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
1. Parochial thinking: Codes of ethics are starting to emerge, but we need a collective to flesh them out for different domains and to monitor compliance. Academics, researchers, industry representatives and others have insight into some ramifications of the work, we can’t keep that insight siloed.
2. Privacy: As the AI industry grows, we need to be cognizant of setting privacy terms and better managing data. Humans can suffer real harm from systems that collect, process and store information without safeguards for privacy and security.
3. Public perception: Businesses want to be seen as advancing or implementing AI in their domain, but development and rollout must be thoughtful. Businesses must consider whether, how, when and at what cost AI solves real problems for humans: your partners, employees and customers.
4. Causality: As the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency notes, machine learning has led to a flowering of AI applications and a promise of autonomous systems that are able to reach conclusions without being able to explain why. In defense, explainable machine learning will be key to building and sustaining trust and effective AI management.
5. Ethics: AI produces and harnesses a volume of information that will create risks to society. The balance between government authority and private interests, as well as the wisdom of the citizens in any given society, will be pressed in new ways that require much more reflection.
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?
As AI professionals, we have an opportunity and responsibility to cultivate awareness and mitigate the impact of vulnerabilities in our field, both in the development of AI (e.g. in data collection) and in its applications. We can build systems that detect cancer and save lives, but this will raise questions about ethics and applications of principles that are hard to answer. As the environmental impact of gas engines emerged, the industry reacted with codes of ethics that include environmental protection. Similarly, global health ethics are emerging as a result of AI.
What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?
People in our industry must think through how to ensure AI is used ethically. To do this, we need to build teams that complement each other and focus on collaboration between our engineers and philosophers. We live in a human world — we’re not all robots — so we need to understand how technology impacts the humanity of the world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
Lionbridge is supporting the revitalization and development of extinct and isolated indigenous languages. We believe if the speakers of these languages have access to a technology that is using their languages in speech recognition and virtual assistance, these languages and their communities will enter the modern age.
We strongly believe in preserving a large diversity in languages. Some of the rare languages and dialects we are working with include Manx, Occitan, Samogitian, Kiribati, Yiddish, Coptic, Tuvalu, Nauru, Wayuu, Purepecha and Ladino.
We also work with nonprofit organizations, schools, universities and religious entities to help preserve a large diversity in languages.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
Some of the most talented people in this field are women. For any person looking to thrive in this space, I would say:
· Find your calling. Work in AI because you love the way it integrates with something you’re passionate about, not because it’s the hot new thing.
· Educate yourself for life, not just for work. Having a well-rounded knowledge base will pay off when working with AI.
· Be confident in showing what you know.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
In 2018, Lionbridge was ranked by Forbes as one of America’s best employers for women and FlexJobs ranked the company for having the second most flexible/remote jobs for freelancers and employees in the U.S. We have noticed a preponderance of women working remotely. More AI companies offering more flexible employment can open opportunities to mothers, retired people, students and others who have difficulty finding flexible part-time jobs.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“Love and laughs.” A friend wrote me a note while I was on a plane sitting next to him, and I kept it in my school bag for years and have it still today. I try to find humor in all things and love the moment.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My son started a “different language club” for his friends, all of whom speak different native tongues, including Taiwanese, Spanish, Farsi, Czech and Albanian. I would love to take his lead and keep languages going as much as possible amongst friends.
Thank you so much for joining us.