In a wonderful interview with Backchannel, Google Cloud’s chief AI scientist Fei-Fei Li and Microsoft alum and philanthropist Melinda Gates press for more diversity in the artificial intelligence field. Among other projects, Li and Gates have launched AI4ALL, an educational nonprofit working to increase diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence.

Fei-Fei Li: As an educator, as a woman, as a woman of color, as a mother, I’m increasingly worried. AI is about to make the biggest changes to humanity, and we’re missing a whole generation of diverse technologists and leaders.…

Melinda Gates: If we don’t get women and people of color at the table — real technologists doing the real work — we will bias systems. Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible. This is the time to get women and diverse voices in so that we build it properly, right?

This reminds me, too, of the call of anthropologist Genevieve Bell to look beyond even technologists to craft this emerging world of machine learning. “If we’re talking about a technology that is as potentially pervasive as this one and as potentially close to us as human beings,” Bell said, “I want more philosophers and psychologists and poets and artists and politicians and anthropologists and social scientists and critics of art.”

We need every perspective we can get. A hurdle: fancy new technologies often come with the damaging misperception that they’re accessible only to an elite few. I love how Gates simply dismisses that impression:

You can learn AI. And you can learn how to be part of the industry. Go find somebody who can explain things to you. If you’re at all interested, lean in and find somebody who can teach you."… I think sometimes when you hear a big technologist talking about AI, you think, “Oh, only he could do it.” No. Everybody can be part of it.

It’s true. Get after it. (If you’re a designer wondering how you fit in, I have some ideas about that: Design in the Era of the Algorithm.)

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