Blog: Women Leading The AI Industry, “Find your tribe!”, with Claire Whittaker and Tyler Gallagher
Find your tribe! It can be daunting when you look at the stats on Women in AI but the tech community is incredibly welcoming, and you will be able to find your tribe here.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire. Claire is a tech blogger who works with machine learning technology at a large tech company. Through her blog, Artificially Intelligent Claire, she is on a mission to help everyone with understanding big data concepts and how to use artificial intelligence for good.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?
My journey into the world of artificial intelligence is rather an unusual one.
I studied chemistry and was working in a research lab having completed my masters. After a few years of working on innovations projects with 20-year scope, I wanted to move to something faster.
Being of my generation, I wanted something with more of the instant gratification I heard so much about elsewhere.
That’s when I moved to work in a tech company.
Initially, on the business side but then moving closer to tech, I become exposed to the wonders of machine learning and AI. I was fascinated by it. It felt like my passions for science, and fast-paced environments were colliding in ever more impressive ways.
However, over the last couple of years, I became increasingly concerned with the narrative on AI from politicians and the media.
Many share messages about artificial intelligence that are at best misleading and often inaccurate. Under normal circumstances, I have been content(ish) to sit on the sidelines cursing those with the microphone for spreading their ‘fake news.’ I would hope for them to see the error of their ways and actually look at the data knowing they wouldn’t.
However, with the seemingly infinite potential of AI, I felt compelled to take action.
That’s when I started my blog Artificially Intelligent Claire, a source of truth and inspiration for people interested in learning about AI.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to connect with people and drive the discussion on artificial intelligence. In doing so, I hope to allow people to take control of their views on technology and join the debate on future applications.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
I think the most important lesson people can take from my life story is not to feel shackled to one career path.
Even though I left university only 9 years ago, I’ve had many different paths and experienced things I could have never anticipated when I started University.
The important thing is that you keep learning and challenging yourself to develop. I think Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has some of the best career advice from this perspective.
In the book, Sheryl shares a piece of advice she was given, ‘that only one criterion mattered when picking a job — fast growth.’
I take this quote to refer to both personal growth and company growth. If you follow the growth, you can’t go far wrong.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
The most exciting project I am working on right now is my book.
The book is a personal research project where I shall be using machine learning and specifically some deep learning techniques, to explore how people define success. It’s something I’m doing for fun but that I think will be really interesting.
And yes for me the idea of a research project is something I do for fun.
No, I am not ashamed to admit just how nerdy I am!
Today, actually probably since the dawn of time, people seem to be obsessed with this idea of being successful. But what does it mean to be successful?
Inspired by my all time favorite book, Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner I am looking to identify the different categories people use when measuring success. I will then mine the data to determine which traits of each of these categories make someone successful within them.
Finally, I will be testing out each of my theories to validate them.
Pretty cool huh?
I will be taking inputs onto which categories of success I study so, please reach out if you have any you’d like to understand more.
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?
Oh my, this is a great question!
I have been so fortunate to have had many mentors and sponsors throughout my life who have shaped it.
Most importantly, I have an incredibly supportive partner and family who are always cheering me on. They are also great for telling me when my ego is getting too big, and I need to pipe down!
However, when it comes to my career, there is one who has done more for me than I could thank him for.
When I started my career in tech it was pretty tough.
One day I had an idea for an innovation project I wanted to test.
It was a little out there, but if the company I was working in couldn’t pull it off, I didn’t know who could.
Having faced some skepticism, I wasn’t sure what to do. However, I had a meeting with this man in the diary as part of my corporate development skip level management time. I decided to present my idea to him, and he was very supportive.
To cut a long story short, he told me to just go with it.
He said I should just explore the idea, where my mind and the data thought it could go and come back to him.
Nobody had ever given me permission to go for it in with my own idea in my career before. I had never been told that my out there ideas could be useful, let alone that I should pursue them.
Having someone open the door for me and my confidence in that way has allowed me to grow infinitely both personally and professionally since then.
I will be forever grateful and I hope to pass on that opportunity to someone else.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
- Applications in medicine and treatment development have to be number one for me. As a chemist at heart, I love the idea of using this technology to understand the body and its chemistry better
- We face huge hurdles due to climate change, and there is an urgent need to better tackle environmental challenges. This is another area where AI research can really help us.
- The AI industry can do a lot to support humanitarian needs. Helping us better understand the challenges within humanitarian crises and strategies that will have the most significant impact to fix them
- In addition to the age-old human and environmental problems, AI is also showing great promise to support the growing issues relating to improving cybersecurity
- The final area that excites me most about the AI industry is the opportunity to build a thriving community and bring people together through tech.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
- Deep Fakes — the power of AI to spread fake news and propaganda that is not distinguishable by people from the truth terrifies me.
Aside from this specific technological advancement, the main things that scare me about the AI industry relate to how the industry can develop and is perceived.
- The elitism of technology — all technology development, in particular, AI, is seen as elitist. When something has such broad implications, I think it is crucial it feels accessible to everyone; otherwise, we end up with a deeply polarized and disconnected system.
- Politicization of AI — using AI as a tool in politics scares me. Instead of using the technology as a mechanism to get votes through speaking to people’s concerns, we should be having a genuine debate
- Misuse of the tech — Good intentions don’t work. Though the vast majority of people developing AI have good intentions, without an ethical framework for development we are at significant risk of it being misused.
- Lack of diversity — without a diverse talent pool creating AI we are at risk of propagating bias at an alarming rate.
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?
I believe that both viewpoints have considerable merit.
However, I tend to side with Zuckerberg on this one. At least for the most part.
Call me an idealist, but I honestly see the potential for AI to really help humanity and all things living on earth.
Also, I do not think we are at the level, or even close to getting to the level Musk speaks of.
In the time it will take us to get to the super-intelligent robot, my belief is we will have also developed a way to combat the super-intelligent killer robot.
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?
As much as I am on team Zuckerburg and friendly AI, I do believe the world Musk describes could happen.
To combat this, I think we should call upon the wisdom of Marie Curie.
When asked why she didn’t patent her discoveries her response was ‘Physicists always publish their research completely. If our discovery has a commercial future, that is an accident by which we must not profit. And radium is going to be used in treating disease… It seems to me impossible to take advantage of that.’
Bringing this thinking into the technological era, we need to share our learnings and encourage collaboration.
We cannot rely on the idealists to create foolproof AI systems and need all voices. This way we can ensure we are coming to the best and most sustainable solutions.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I think the best way to bring goodness into the world is by helping one person in some way, every opportunity you get.
I have the feeling I am coming across a bit soft here, but for me, if my blog helps just one person on their path, then I am successful. And I am bringing goodness into the world.
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?
- Find your tribe! It can be daunting when you look at the stats on Women in AI but the tech community is incredibly welcoming, and you will be able to find your tribe here.
- Don’t wait to be invited. I know I said earlier that the best thing in my career was when I was invited to think. But don’t be like me, don’t wait to be invited just jump in!
- Know your value. In this rich tapestry of life, your unique experiences bring significant value. Know that and bring them.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
I think we need to stop telling women what they can’t do and start encouraging them to do precisely what they want.
Children do not have the same concerns about whether as a girl they should love AI.
Children like what they like.
We should encourage this and naturally we will get more women growing up and engaging in AI.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is enormous potential to get more women into AI by targeting mothers wanting to return to work and people who are currently not working. If they want to be involved, tech presents excellent opportunities for flexible working that can work well with family life.
By reaching out and offering training for these women, we can help them craft a career in AI.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
‘This too shall pass.’
Not specifically related to my career; however, I have always found this quote to be calming in times of crisis and motivating in times of energy. When I experience tough times, knowing that they will pass helps guide me through them. Also being aware that good times can flip the other way pushes me to drive myself further in them.
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. :-)
I would start a movement that challenges people to talk to a new person every month.
I think we should actively seek out discussions with people who are different from ourselves. Doing this gives you a much more well-rounded view of the world. It challenges your conscious and unconscious biases and makes you a better person.
It also helps you see opportunities to be creative. How can you solve a problem if you don’t know it exists?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Like any self-respecting millennial, I am on all the socials and LinkedIn!
But, you are most likely to find me hanging out on Instagram (@artificiallyintelligentclaire) or of course, my blog
Want to continue the discussion? Send me a DM, I’m always up for a chat.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!