Women in AI: Urvashi Aneja is researching the social impact of AI in India

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To provide AI-focused girls lecturers and others their well-deserved — and overdue — time within the highlight, Trendster is launching a sequence of interviews specializing in exceptional girls who’ve contributed to the AI revolution. We’ll publish a number of items all year long because the AI increase continues, highlighting key work that usually goes unrecognized. Learn extra profiles right here.

Urvashi Aneja is the founding director of Digital Futures Lab, an interdisciplinary analysis effort that seeks to look at the interplay between expertise and society within the International South. She’s additionally an affiliate fellow on the Asia Pacific program at Chatham Home, an unbiased coverage institute primarily based in London.

Aneja’s present analysis focuses on the societal influence of algorithmic decision-making techniques in India, the place she’s primarily based, and platform governance. Aneja lately authored a research on the present makes use of of AI in India, reviewing use circumstances throughout sectors together with policing and agriculture.

Q&A

Briefly, how did you get your begin in AI? What attracted you to the sector?

I began my profession in analysis and coverage engagement within the humanitarian sector. For a number of years, I studied using digital applied sciences in protracted crises in low-resource contexts. I rapidly realized that there’s a wonderful line between innovation and experimentation, significantly when coping with susceptible populations. The learnings from this expertise made me deeply involved in regards to the techno-solutionist narratives across the potential of digital applied sciences, significantly AI. On the identical time, India had launched its Digital India mission and Nationwide Technique for Synthetic Intelligence. I used to be troubled by the dominant narratives that noticed AI as a silver bullet for India’s advanced socio-economic issues, and the entire lack of vital discourse across the subject.

What work are you most pleased with (within the AI subject)?

I’m proud that we’ve been in a position to attract consideration to the political economic system of AI manufacturing in addition to broader implications for social justice, labor relations and environmental sustainability. Fairly often narratives on AI concentrate on the features of particular functions, and at finest, the advantages and dangers of that software. However this misses the forest for the bushes — a product-oriented lens obscures the broader structural impacts such because the contribution of AI to epistemic injustice, deskilling of labor and the perpetuation of unaccountable energy within the majority world. I’m additionally proud that we’ve been in a position to translate these issues into concrete coverage and regulation — whether or not designing procurement tips for AI use within the public sector or delivering proof in authorized proceedings in opposition to Large Tech corporations within the International South.

How do you navigate the challenges of the male-dominated tech trade, and, by extension, the male-dominated AI trade?

By letting my work do the speaking. And by continuously asking: why?

What recommendation would you give to girls searching for to enter the AI subject?

Develop your data and experience. Make certain your technical understanding of points is sound, however don’t focus narrowly solely on AI. As a substitute, research extensively with the intention to draw connections throughout fields and disciplines. Not sufficient individuals perceive AI as a socio-technical system that’s a product of historical past and tradition.

What are among the most urgent points dealing with AI because it evolves?

I believe essentially the most urgent subject is the focus of energy inside a handful of expertise corporations. Whereas not new, this downside is exacerbated by new developments in giant language fashions and generative AI. Many of those corporations at the moment are fanning fears across the existential dangers of AI. Not solely is that this a distraction from the prevailing harms, however it additionally positions these corporations as vital for addressing AI-related harms. In some ways, we’re dropping among the momentum of the “tech-lash” that arose following the Cambridge Analytica episode. In locations like India, I additionally fear that AI is being positioned as vital for socioeconomic growth, presenting a possibility to leapfrog persistent challenges. Not solely does this exaggerate AI’s potential, however it additionally disregards the purpose that it isn’t doable to leapfrog the institutional growth wanted to develop safeguards. One other subject that we’re not contemplating severely sufficient is the environmental impacts of AI — the present trajectory is prone to be unsustainable. Within the present ecosystem, these most susceptible to the impacts of local weather change are unlikely to be the beneficiaries of AI innovation.

What are some points AI customers ought to concentrate on?

Customers have to be made conscious that AI isn’t magic, nor something near human intelligence. It’s a type of computational statistics that has many helpful makes use of, however is finally solely a probabilistic guess primarily based on historic or earlier patterns. I’m certain there are a number of different points customers additionally want to pay attention to, however I wish to warning that we needs to be cautious of makes an attempt to shift accountability downstream, onto customers. I see this most lately with using generative AI instruments in low-resource contexts within the majority world — somewhat than be cautious about these experimental and unreliable applied sciences, the main focus usually shifts to how end-users, akin to farmers or front-line well being staff, have to up-skill.

What’s one of the best ways to responsibly construct AI?

This should begin with assessing the necessity for AI within the first place. Is there an issue that AI can uniquely resolve or are different means doable? And if we’re to construct AI, is a posh, black-box mannequin vital, or may an easier logic-based mannequin just do as effectively? We additionally have to re-center area data into the constructing of AI. Within the obsession with massive information, we’ve sacrificed concept — we have to construct a concept of change primarily based on area data and this needs to be the premise of the fashions we’re constructing, not simply massive information alone. That is after all along with key points akin to participation, inclusive groups, labor rights and so forth.

How can buyers higher push for accountable AI?

Buyers want to think about your complete life cycle of AI manufacturing — not simply the outputs or outcomes of AI functions. This is able to require a variety of points akin to whether or not labor is pretty valued, the environmental impacts, the enterprise mannequin of the corporate (i.e. is it primarily based on industrial surveillance?) and inner accountability measures throughout the firm. Buyers additionally have to ask for higher and extra rigorous proof in regards to the supposed advantages of AI.

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