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How Melinda Gates Is Fighting for Diversity in Artificial Intelligence

Photos: Courtesy of Anita B & Gates Archive

It’s official – being data scientist is the best gig in America. For the second year in a row, the profession has topped the list published by Glassdoor, which ranks jobs based on earning potential, job satisfaction and number of openings. Other careers in technology, including DevOps engineer, data engineer, tax manager and analytics manager, rounded out the top twenty.

Gender inequality

Despite the widespread opportunity in this field, there is a significant and well-documented gender gap plaguing its workforce, with women only holding 26 percent of data jobs in the U.S. Even worse is that according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, after peaking in 1991 at 36 percent, the rate of women in computing roles has been in steady decline. And in the high-tech industry, the quit rate is more than twice as high for women than it is for men, 41 percent versus 17 percent, respectively. These are statistics that advocate and philanthropist Melinda Gates is working tirelessly to reverse.

“The data scientist Cathy O’Neil might have put it best when she said, ‘Algorithms are just opinions embedded in code,’” Gates tells Mediaplanet. Technology has been a lifelong passion for Gates, who studied computer science and business in college before landing a fortuitous job at Microsoft. “Already they’re deciding how much we pay for insurance, what kind of medical treatments we receive, even how long people go to prison. But even though those decisions affect all of us, they don’t reflect all of us. They’re based on the assumptions and biases of the people who write the code – who, at least at this point, happen to be almost entirely men.”

A seat at the table

Gates believes this drastic underrepresentation leaves vital social and cultural perspectives out of the conversation in artificial intelligence (AI) development.

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD: The future is now. With exciting new possibilities on the front lines of artificial intelligence, Melinda Gates is pushing for diversity in the world of technology.

“That’s why we need to create more opportunities for young women and people of color to get involved,” she continues. Gates is particularly excited about programs such as AI4ALL, a nonprofit working to increase diversity and inclusion in the AI industry by providing high school students with early exposure to the technology.

“Whether we like it or not, artificial intelligence and machine learning are going to change our world. It’s up to us to make sure that change is for the better.”

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