Last month we celebrated the 6th edition of WiM [Women in Mobile] event. This year, my colleagues asked me to do the inspirational talk to the auditorium. It was a big challenge. I am used to talking in public events but especially about tech. Not about myself. In this case, I had to share personal experiences. I have to confess that this is something quite difficult for me.
I would like to share with you one of the drafts of the speech I shared. And I hope you like it:
I would like to ask you to close your eyes and imagine an elephant.
(maybe not that elephant ^^)
How many of you imagined a strong elephant, living free in the jungle, that can crush even the tallest tree? If you had this thought, raise your hand…
And now, raise your hand if you imagined a sad elephant, with a chain around its leg, looking lost, trapped in the middle of a zoo cage.
This sad elephant has grown up with a chain around its leg, walking in circles. Today, even without a chain, that elephant has no idea it has the strength to crush even the tallest tree.
Sometimes I feel that we, as women, are elephants with great potential but with imaginary chains around our legs.
And what is the relationship between imaginary chains and Artificial Intelligence? I believe the connection is huge…
Did you have any doubt regarding what to study at university? Let me see a show of hands.
I can see I wasn’t the only one. When I had to choose a degree, I felt completely lost. I was the first person in my family to study (and finish) a university career. I didn’t have a lot of people around with diverse backgrounds that could share their experiences and their real work. At one point, I was interested in architecture. At another point, I was interested in engineering. Almost the same, right?!
Let me confess something: when I was a little, I didn’t play much with dolls. What I enjoyed most was playing with my dad’s collection of toy trucks and bulldozers. I loved to touch the soil, getting my hands dirty as I loaded the trucks.
Another of my hobbies was to disassemble small appliances and put them back together. Sometimes there were pieces missing but luckily the appliances still worked. I guess that’s why my parents said nothing about it.
Like many of you, my adolescence was the moment to enter a new world. When I was in my teens, I came upon a man with a lovely, sexy mustache and I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I discovered Mario Bros and videogames. WooW, a TV where you not only watched cartoons but you could play with them also. It was amazing but I didn’t play as much as I would like.
So back to the choice of the university… After discussing it with my parents about what to study, they recommended that I study something more convenient, than architecture or engineering. They have a family business. So, studying Business Administration was the “natural path” I took.
My parents love me and they always wanted the best for me. But without a doubt these experiences conditioned my early years. And, in some manner, also my self-esteem. Sometimes, instead of boosting our kids, we put limitations on them, especially on girls.
But not only parents; my teachers never pushed me towards a tech degree. I couldn’t find role models, neither in movies or TV shows (in fact, they showed all techies are nerds, still today). Even among my friends, I had only one friend who wanted to study engineering, Judit. She was the smartest in our class. And I still think of her as someone with a voracious curiosity.
I realized that if we propel our daughters, nieces, and friends, challenging them to set the sky as the limit, then we could have more Nerea Luis, Elisenda Bou, Susana Duran or Maria Crosas. We need them. We need more women in STEM. And the way to do this is by removing those invisible chains. Because if you believe that something is difficult, you’re making this chain.
What I learned over the years, is that there is no such thing as a difficult area, a difficult challenge or even a difficult degree. The ingredients we need to achieve what we want are passion, willingness, and tenacity.
For some of us, AI may seem difficult. Self-driving cars can seem like science fiction. But they are real. A self-driving car has learned that a red traffic light means stop. And a green one, to move forward. My phone is unlocked with FaceID because it has learned who I am, after being trained with several pictures of me. Our spam email has learned to filter good and bad emails. Oriol, my 6-year-old neighbour was disappointed to hear from Siri how far Disneyland is from his home. However, he is super happy when Netflix recommends what to watch next.
Don’t be afraid of AI. Having robots that can do what humans do is still very far. If you realized, in the previous examples, humans only take seconds to make a decision: red-green traffic lights. Face recognition or filtering spam email. Being aware of this, imagine time-consuming and repetitive tasks you could automate in your company or even in your life.
But machines can only make good decisions if we train them correctly, with a diverse team. The Google Photos team had realized that pictures of black people were identified as gorillas. Why? Because no one has ever thought to train this algorithm with pictures of black people.
We can’t expect AI to draw the future correctly if our teams of developers aren’t breaking our social biases. And that’s why we need more women in AI. We can’t put limits on young girls or ourselves. We are all necessary to build a future with no biases.
I urge all of you to release the chains on young women and help them believe in their strengths so that we can stop walking in circles like those elephants and start applying our knowledge and passion for the future of AI.
Before I end today, are you up for a challenge? (I can’t hear you).
Can everyone in the audience commit to helping one young woman over the next month? Let’s start there and all be ambassadors for change.
Thank you for your time and enjoy the evening.