Diversity in Digital with #GIRLTECHLCR

Funded in part by Leeds City Council, #GIRLTECHLCR is an amazing initiative to get more female students inspired to work in digital and tech. I was able to take part in the scheme as a part of Leeds Digital Festival 2019, delivering four 30-minute workshops to year 9 students.

With the topic of computer vision being so closely aligned to my work here at HOME, this seemed an obvious choice for the workshops. I wanted to demonstrate to the students the astounding capabilities and future implications of machine learning, and how artificial intelligence (AI) can change our everyday lives. Through a pseudo-coding exercise, I got the students to reflect on how an image classifier might be built, and interactive games such as Google’s ‘Teachable Machine’ made the principles behind machine learning easily understandable.

One of the reasons I feel it’s so important to introduce this fascinating technology to young people is the simple fact that it’s going to affect our generation so profoundly. Part of my talk came down to an explanation of how many of the jobs we know today could be completely transformed or even replaced entirely through the huge advances being made in the field of AI.

This industry has been rightly criticised for contributing to the perpetuation of negative or harmful stereotypes, with many documented cases of machine learning algorithms generating results that reflect the biased datasets they were created from. Should our future continue to move towards the adoption of ultra-smart machines capable of making life-altering decisions in areas including the criminal justice system, recruitment process and financial services, then it’s essential that more sections of society are involved in their development and application. Crucially, this means encouraging representation not just amongst gender and ethnicity, but also across different socio-economic backgrounds.

My passion for machine learning and its many applications was a big influence on my decision to take part in Leeds Digital Fest, and I sincerely believe the best way to shape the trajectory of AI is to ensure inclusivity from the ground up. By reaching out to young people from a range of backgrounds, hopefully the next generation of engineers, researchers, data scientists and business leaders who help mould this technology can provide a more diverse point of view than the last.

Stephanie Burras CBE is Chief Executive of social enterprise Ahead Partnership – one of the events’ main organisers – and she summarises the purpose of the day perfectly: “Tech cannot innovate if the minds behind it all think, act and look the same – diversity breeds innovation. We need to improve the representation of women and other groups in tech and much of this work starts in schools.”

Having heard feedback from the students taking part in the day, I’m so glad I got over my initial apprehension; though delivering workshops on a complex topic in such a short timeframe was a daunting prospect, it turned out to be an incredible experience. In the end, breaking down these concepts into their basic components was an educational process for me, as much as it was for them! After all, how can we hope to convince our colleagues, peers, or anyone else to take an interest in our work if we’re unable to explain the principles behind it?

The opportunity to build a career in machine learning should be accessible to all, and if you’re reading this and are interested in learning more about opportunities in this area then please get in contact with us at helloLeeds@homeagency.co.uk or by tweeting us @homeagencyuk.

Written by:

Barry Bell


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