It has been noted in various industry-wide instances that the females usually follow a more collaborative leadership style to excel Artificial Intelligence beyond prevalent challenges. One of the significant examples is the group of women excelling at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the field of AI.
Carnegie Mellon University has shaped artificial intelligence (AI) from the field’s very beginning. Today, researchers from all seven colleges across CMU continue to define AI as the next frontier in human progress and are working to help solve problems in areas from healthcare to education.
Because of the interdisciplinary campus culture, CMU is a place where women are thriving in the field of AI, even though they are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) across the globe.
CMU’s women in AI — from undergraduate students to distinguished faculty members — discuss their research, its impact, and their future in the world of AI.
Yiwen Yuan is an undergraduate student in Computer Science. Her research has focused on food insecurity and she works in partnership with local organization 412 Food Rescue (led by Leah Lizarando, an alumna of CMU’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy). The organization created an app allowing businesses with surplus food to connect with volunteers, who transport the food to organizations feeding those in need.
“I’m helping develop technology for places and people who do not specialize in this area. AI is helping their organizations to improve and also reduce their human workload,” Yuan said.
As an undergrad, Yuan has attended and presented at conferences related to AI. She has noticed the speakers and attendees are primarily male, but it hasn’t given her pause.
Yuan will continue her education at CMU as a master’s student and plans to pursue a Ph.D. afterward. She plans to take her skills to an organization or university that supports diversity.
“Science and technology are for all people,” she said. “I definitely have to do background research to figure out if a workspace treats women equally.”
Sweta Priyadarshi is a graduate student in Electrical & Computer Engineering. She was working for Amazon in India after completing her undergraduate degree in engineering when she became interested in artificial intelligence. Her employer encouraged her to take on projects that helped her learn how machines can better understand humans or at least imitate some human-like behavior, like Alexa, understanding and recommending suggestions.
At CMU, she has done research using AI to study the degradation rates of solar panels and to help self-driving cars prevent collisions. Most recently, she has entered the healthcare realm. Priyadarshi works with Dr. Conrad Tucker’s AiPEX Lab, supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop AI allowing mobile phone cameras to monitor heart rate, respiration rate and other health parameters including major physiological signals.
Her advice to women interested in artificial intelligence is “just enter the field and explore! It has a lot to offer and if we take these risks on research that interests us, we can solve problems crucial to mankind.”
Nikki is a postdoctoral fellow in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. She hadn’t considered herself an AI researcher until her colleagues convinced her otherwise. At CMU, she works with a diverse group developing cognitive tutors that are responsive to individual students.
Coming from an educational background rather than computer science, Lobczowski worried she wouldn’t be a good fit for her team’s AI projects. Instead, her perspective as a classroom teacher proved invaluable for the research.
Lobczowski has in the past felt like an outsider as a woman in a STEM field but feels like she’s found a welcoming home at CMU.
She’s learning that AI is far more diverse than “just” computer programmers. “There’s a place for everyone in AI research,” she said. “When it’s done well, it’s ultimately user-centered, and we are all users. We all have our own expertise and there’s a place for all voices.”
Fei Fang, assistant professor in the Institute for Software Research, is committed to developing AI for social good. Her work in machine learning leverages understanding how humans think and approach decisions.
“What we want to do is empower software and automation to help us make better decisions,” she said, “because humans are prone to error and irrational behaviors.”
Fang integrates computational game theory with machine learning to help make very tangible societal change. In CMU’s Institute for Software Research, she leads a project to help reduce wildlife poaching. She collaborates with wildlife conservation agencies throughout Africa and Asia and builds models to help predict where poachers will strike to help rangers patrol more efficiently.
According to Fang, “Different views are critical to AI research.”
Molly Wright Steenson
Molly Wright Steenson is the senior associate dean of research for the College of Fine Arts and associate professor in the School of Design. She is an expert on the history of AI and its relationship to computation in architecture. Her book, Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape, examines architecture’s interactions with computation, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence.
This merging of ideas is particularly relevant to a school like CMU, which emphasizes collaboration between departments. Throughout the history of the field of AI, architects and designers have helped impact the development of programming languages and the ways software is designed.
“We’ve been using the term Artificial Intelligence for 65 years,” she said. “The term is old enough for social security!”
In addition to serving as the senior associate dean for research in the College of Fine Arts, Steenson holds the K&L Gates Career Development Professorship of Ethics and Computational Technologies. This means she teaches at the intersection of AI, design, and architecture with a lens toward the ethical decisions a technologist might make.
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