Women in AI: Diverse Perspectives to Empower Change
November 1, 2023
A Q&A with Alice Roberts, Program Lead, Foundry for AI by Rackspace (FAIR™), Technical Program Manager, Rackspace Technology
At the forefront of the rapidly growing field of artificial intelligence, trailblazing women in AI are rising through the ranks in IT and using their expertise and determination to bring AI to the forefront of technology. Through their stories and experiences, they inspire and empower future generations to push the boundaries and embrace the endless possibilities of AI. Recently, the FAIR team sat down with our own Alice Roberts to get her thoughts on workplace diversity, and the present — and future role of AI:
Q: Can you tell us about your early professional experiences and how they have shaped your career?
A: My early professional experiences have helped to define the work I love to do today. During my early career I held software engineering, systems engineering and project management roles. These roles gave me the opportunity to design and develop software solutions, manage the integration of complex systems and lead teams in the planning and execution of projects. During that time, I worked on AI projects involving pattern recognition solutions, essentially having the system make decisions based on patterns in the data. This was before the term “AI” became popular. Because of my early professional experiences my career has evolved to leading program management teams, leading business operations for engineering organizations and now the opportunity to lead a large generative AI program.
Q: What would you say you enjoy most about your work?
A: I enjoy seeing the end results. A lot of work goes into spinning up a program, and it’s extremely important to provide structure and organization around the work that needs to get done. Once you have a good cadence and the team builds momentum around the deliverables, the end result is extraordinary.
Q: Who is your inspiration in life and in your career?
A: My mother inspires me every day. She always instilled in me and my six sisters that there is no limit to what we can achieve and to always keep pushing forward. Whenever I face a challenge, I think about her and what she would say to me!
Q: How does an organization ensure diversity in IT teams? In your view, how does Rackspace Technology achieve diversity?
A: A diverse team is important because we all interact with the world differently and have different perspectives. Organizations can make sure that people with diverse life experiences and backgrounds are included and have an opportunity to participate in the process. Regarding IT and AI, organizations can democratize AI training so that everyone in the company is participating in the process and learning about AI, not just the technologists. This brings a diverse group of people to the table. Rackspace Technology® is making sure this happens through our FAIR Learn program that allows everyone in the company to achieve AI Ready certification.
Q: How did you get involved in AI and what do you enjoy most about the field?
A: I was first intrigued by AI when I saw its potential in pattern recognition years ago. But what really fascinates me is how rapidly the field is advancing, with topics like generative AI frequently seen in the media: It’s hard to miss a news article or a TV show, whether it’s “60 Minutes” or what have you, where there’s not a topic on AI. I love how AI can aggregate and process different data sets to generate new content, and that’s what motivates me to keep pushing forward and see what the future holds.
Q: How did you become the program lead of FAIR?
A: I previously led transformation programs within IT, and I was given the great opportunity to lead FAIR. There are six different work streams within the FAIR program, and I manage them through a weekly cadence. I ensure there is structure and organization around the work that needs to get done. It’s been a great experience to work with so many passionate people within the company and see the excitement around FAIR.
Q: How can a diverse team help ensure the safety, ethics and fairness of AI systems?
A: Since AI is becoming rapidly available, we certainly do need to consider the impact that these systems can have on a wide variety of people. We need to make sure it’s safe and we need to make sure it’s ethical. We also need to ensure that it’s human-centered and fair. We need to understand that the AI is not in charge of us — we are in charge of it. And we need to look at it as not a decision-maker, but more of a decision-support system. By involving a diverse group of people, we can avoid potential trouble spots. We can ensure AI remains ethical and fair, by implementing governance and evaluating the output for biases or illogical results before moving forward.
Q: As a female leader in the AI industry, what do you predict for gender diversity and thought leadership in the future? What steps should be taken to promote positive change in this field?
A: In the coming years, I believe that the widespread adoption of AI and making it more accessible for people of all backgrounds will lead to increased diversity, thought leadership and positive change in the industry. By removing barriers to entry and promoting education and training in AI principles, individuals will feel more comfortable and empowered to have a voice and contribute to the advancement of technology.
To me, it’s all about trust. What, exactly, is responsible AI? In general, it can help to ensure fairness and accessibility for all, while avoiding bias. It’s important to remember that AI is a support tool.
Trailblazers like Alice Roberts are actively making an impact in AI. As organizations accelerate their adoption of AI, they should focus on building diverse teams to help roll it out across their operations. And we should all focus on making AI accessible to everyone and advocating for a more ethical and inclusive future.
Read more on “AI Ethics in Action“
Rackspace University’s technical training team, understanding the urgent need for AI training, swung into action and developed a live, two-hour digital workshop on AI ethics and fundamentals in just 16 days.