In 2005, when I was learning the ropes of product and website development at my first job, I could not have imagined my path would lead me to being a tech leader at a top company transforming an industry. But I knew one thing, even when I was battling imposter syndrome as someone brand new to tech: I was transfixed by the power of technology to change—and ultimately, benefit—how we interact with one another.
During my entire career, and in my current role as senior director in Capital One’s machine learning (ML) center of excellence, I’ve been committed to using technology to drive transformational change not just for the sake of business, but also for people. I’m committed to understanding the wider implications of AI and ML in society. I believe that if multidisciplinary experts—technologists, researchers, educators, corporate leaders, government entities, and community organizers—collaborate, AI has the potential to transform people’s lives in a hugely positive way. There is no doubt the technology will disrupt how humans work, communicate, and live—and change is not always easy or pleasant—but it’s up to us to ensure this transformation leaves no one behind and keeps humans at the forefront.
Rather than AI supplanting human capability, I believe it can be used as a tool to enhance our lives. To do so, a diverse, interdisciplinary group of people must participate in developing the technology to reduce bias, inequity, and unintended harm in how AI operates at the code level, and ensure it benefits everyone in our society. Everyone needs to have input into how AI is developed. If AI is developed and implemented as a product of diverse viewpoints, it has a better chance of serving the greater societal good, enhancing human skills, and freeing us up to focus on what we do best: interaction, inference, critical thinking, and collaboration.
What is the first step in ensuring AI is crafted inclusively? Encourage more underrepresented groups to choose technology as a career—and work to ensure we create a culture where everyone belongs. With a freshly-minted liberal arts degree and a keen interest in how culture, history and technology inform and shape each other, I had a choice of career paths, and I chose technology because I saw the promise of its ability to positively reshape society. Since then, I’ve devoted my entire working life to fostering inclusion in the tech industry, founding Tech by Superwomen, an international organization that empowers women in the tech industry, and working as head of strategic partnerships and alliances at the United States Digital Service (USDS), an innovative tech initiative of the Obama White House. Importantly, I believe in bringing a wider array of voices to technology development. That’s why I joined this company and why I’m excited about the work we’re doing every day to make tech more inclusive.
To continue fostering inclusivity, we must engage both industry partners and academic experts to further research and better understand the challenges and opportunities, including the ethical gray areas, of technological development. Now more than ever, it is crucial for technology leaders to balance the use of sophisticated technology like AI and ML with the appropriate development that ensures fair and unbiased outcomes. We must also invest in training and development for the workforce and broader communities to adapt to a more AI-driven workplace and society. It’s a long road, and we don’t have all the answers yet, but I believe this approach is an important step to help foster a more thoughtful and inclusive expansion of technology.
(Participants at Capital One’s Women in Tech Demo Day)
Rather than idly watch the digital divide widen, we must take action now to close the gap between accelerated advances in areas like AI and ML and the communities struggling with a shift to a more AI-driven economy by providing educational opportunities from elementary school through college, funding multidisciplinary and social science-based academic research into AI, and helping workers gain the skills they’ll need to succeed now and in the future. Capital One is chipping away at this with initiatives like FutureEdge, which will invest $150 million into community grants and programs over the next five years to help more American workers and entrepreneurs get the tools, skills, and resources they need to succeed in tomorrow’s economy. It’s also why my team, and many others across the company, are working with multidisciplinary groups to research AI and ML and ensure that we can continue building the technology in a responsible way that puts our customers first.
AI and ML will change the world in profound ways and enable us to do things we never thought possible. The people developing these technologies hold great power, and with that power comes the responsibility for its impact. Companies creating and deploying AI must be guided by a mission to do so in a responsible, fair, and well-managed way that puts humans first. Will every company do that? No, but many will, including Capital One, and these actions will hopefully encourage corporations and government bodies to adopt similar inclusive practices.
The systems, processes, and norms around AI and ML that we build today will guide how this technology impacts our society long into the future. The nature of technology is always changing and evolving, but one thing is constant—and that’s the humans behind it. Today, we have the chance to ensure AI is used to make our world a better place. I’m betting on that unique human ingenuity to build technological systems that help everyone thrive.
By Cat Posey, Senior Technology Director, Machine Learning at Capital One