There were so many amazing ideas and themes at the Women Leading in AI conference yesterday, it’s hard to know where to start.

The overarching theme – and one that was centre stage – is that we’re now in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (which has come hot on the heels of the Third). So while we may feel we’re only just getting to grips with the impact of digital, it’s time to start wrapping our heads around AI (artificial intelligence) and automation – and fast.

In social media alone, automation and bots are now commonplace. From chatbot games to automated customer service, organisations are finding that an upfront investment in machine learning software can pay dividends in the long run.

The future of everything

But the impact of AI extends across all sectors and will be seen in virtually every aspect of our lives. And the point of the conference yesterday was to ensure that women are closely involved in its development. (Ivana Bartoletti, Chair of Fabian Women and a co-organiser of the conference put the case very eloquently in her recent Guardian article.)

Ivana was one of the many prominent women technologists present at yesterday’s conference, along with Seema Malhotra MP, Joanna Bryson, Allison Gardner, Paula Boddington, Seyi Akiwowo (pictured centre, above) and many, many more.

The things I learned

1. We need to collectively articulate a positive vision. We can’t let others (especially those driven purely by profit) frame our future. To know where we want to go with AI we have to first answer questions about ourselves as human beings. We need a definition of human agency in order to enhance it. (A wig on a tortoise is not an enhancement!)

2. Our data is ourselves [and the personal is political]. Algorithms must be transparent. Also, we need a new model of taxation and re-distribution because the tech companies have been gathering our data before they even know what to do with it – they’re now sitting on a goldmine. It’s time to take back control!

3. The whole world of work is going to change so much it may not be recognisable as “work” any more. Concepts like jobs and pensions could be replaced by long sabbaticals and corporate ownership for all (sounds utopian but check out Cath Colebrook’s work at IPPR).

4. At the core of this debate is what it means to be human. AI is dependent on roles being programmable: white collar lawyers and accountants (for example) are easier to replicate, carers and CEOs less so. This will create polarisation in the labour market.

5. The Government’s new industrial strategy is apparently quite good.

Just the beginning

It was fantastic to be in a room full of so many brilliant women – and my head was buzzing throughout the day. Despite the inspirational speakers, the discussion was inclusive and audience members where encouraged to chip in when they wanted.

As a result, the overall message from the day was very much one of mutual support and passionate determination – it’s clear this is just the start of our journey together. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.

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