Diversity in tech and why we need it

It is a wide known fact within the industry of IT that there’s not a lot of diversity among people who build the internet. Why is this a problem and why should we address it?

Technology is everywhere. We use technology to communicate with our peers at work, with our families, with our friends. We use technology to search for information, we use it to get our news, we use it to learn and to grow. Being such an omnipresent factor in our lives, in everyone’s lives, it is imperative that technology is built for everyone. Moreover, it’s important that technology is built by everyone.

While it is true that most people are born naturally empathetic, there’s only so much our empathy can go. To give a silly yet relatable example, last weekend we forgot to purchase vegan sweets for an event. The reason being: it’s always been our (then absent) vegan friend who thought about those things. One can make an extra effort to be empathetic and walk in someone else’s shoes, but not sharing their reality only allows us to do it to some extent.

Of course, the lack of empathy when building a product can go beyond sensitivities and affect functionality as well. A clear example of that are facial recognition algorithms. Take the case of Joy Buolamwini, an African-American MIT student, whose face was not being consistently recognised by the face-detection algorithms she was using to complete her studies. In order to test her assignments, she even had to recur to wearing a white mask to increase contrast in low-light environments and have her face detected.

Does this mean that whoever created the face detection algorithms is racist, or that the algorithm has a racist bias? Not at all. Most face detection programs use artificial intelligence, where a neural network needs to be trained with a set of samples (in this case, faces), that will allow it to determine patterns to match against. The main cause for black faces not being recognised, or Asian eyes detected as closed, is that the set of samples used for training the neural network was not diverse enough.

While it can seem hard to, as individuals, influence how a phone screen blocker detects Asian eyes or how crime prevention algorithms identify suspects, the truth is that we all have a part to play. Diversity is key, and we all can start by encouraging others to become involved. Examples of this are Rails Girls and Django Girls among others, which are organisations aimed at increasing the proportion of women in tech, and Black Girls Code, which aims to increase the number of women of color in the digital space. Another great example is the Algorithmic Justice League, created by the aforementioned Joy to highlight algorithmic bias.

If you feel identified with any of these stories, get involved. If you ever found it difficult to use an app or website due to your ethnicity, age or disabilities, get your community involved. Educate them, attract them to the industry. Increase diversity in the development teams and in the test groups. If you didn’t, if you’ve never had any struggles at all, make a special effort to become aware of social bias. Start by looking at your surroundings. Inspect the company you work at and analyse whether it’s diverse enough. Encourage diversity. Improve tech.

Let’s play together

I remember going to the toy store with my parents for my 8th or 7th birthday to pick out my present. Those were the times when there was nothing as boring as getting clothes and there was nothing that could beat that trip to the toy store and those long aisles filled with fun.

I can’t recall if I wanted to be a marine biologist or a crazy scientist (special emphasis in the word “crazy”, because it was the most important part of the degree!), but I was looking for a microscope on that trip. Looking back I can see why may be the toy store wasn’t the best place to buy one! I finally found one, but of course it was a toy.

Disappointment didn’t last too long, since I kept looking around and I found it. The perfect gift. It was a box almost as big as me, and with big letters spelled: CHEMISTRY. When I bought it I felt so grown up, I could picture myself turning my house into an amazing lab. Each time I played with it, it felt like I did. The hours I spent with that chemistry set are countless.

What I didn’t see back then was that the box was decorated with different lab equipment, nothing else. Finally, on the side, the box specified the recommended age for the players. Leaving the specific age aside, the thing that stood out was the fact that there was a girl and a boy on the sides of the number.

As I grew up and started leaving my toys behind, I started paying more attention to the ads. The little kitchen, the register machine, the laundry set…the toy every girl wants for this Christmas. The workshop, the cars, the tools’ box, the little man of the house can’t have too many of those.

Sometimes, you don’t realize the effect that one can have on children. If you let them believe since that early age that they should play with something because it’s a “girl” or a “boy” toy, that kid grows up believing life is filled with “girl” and “boy” stuff and believing that decisions have to be made considering that, including of course, deciding which degree to pursue.

Usually school doesn’t help. If a girl does well on maths, it’s “impressive” and if a boy does poorly on literature, it’s “natural”. That’s because boys do better in science and girls do better in softer subjects. I heard that one between mothers so many times.

The world of science is seen as a man’s world, and if that was the case because it just happens, so be it. However, degrees in science are pictured as hard, intense, with a lot of manual skills. Therefore, boys are more encouraged to pursue them, since it’s risky for a girl.

We need to increase awareness on the impact we have on children and start thinking before speaking. If not, we are still raising adults that think that the natural place for a woman is the kitchen, while there’s nothing more charming than a man that cooks. We keep nurturing a society where is “amazing” that a woman pursues a degree in science. More important, we set what kind of aspirations kids should have.

If I ever have kids, I would like for them to grow up in a world where they don’t feel as a minority if they are the only woman in a class full of men or vice versa. If I ever have a daughter and she decides to study engineering as her mother, I would like for the first question she’s asked not to be: “Hey, it’s full of boys! When are you getting a boyfriend?”

Changes begin at our homes and we collaborate as a society. While playing they learn. Let’s learn to let them play.

Educational innovation: a first step

We have heard repeatedly about the need to reform the way we educate. It is a challenge, it is a gradual change, that it requires changes in State policies… Many conferences, workshops, activities and forums have been held to suggest new ideas in this area; “applicable” ideas. I have not seen any results of all of them yet. It is still a discussion, and it seems the parts can’t reach an agreement. What are they missing?

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The digital era and education

The new digital era has made  the use of technology in education grow significantly in the last few years.

Many students over the world prefer to study with electronic books or with Internet searches, while educational institutions have adopted the use of whiteboards to teach, and Moodle platforms to follow assignments from teachers. Moreover, do not forget it is possible to pursue online degrees . It is a revolution of the digital age that is slowly leaving the libraries and newspaper archives where we used to spend hours looking information to study for the next exam.

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The state of higher education: innovation in times of crisis

The current state of higher education has become the center of attention for many people in the last few years. In the interest of stirring up the discussion, I would like to offer my own views. Whether you agree with them or not, I invite you to join the dialogue in the comments below!

To begin with, I believe the current model of higher education is fundamentally broken. It is becoming increasingly harder for people to work their way to a formal degree, and the few who do, often find themselves with a mountain of debts to pay. The proposed solution to this usually involves an increase in the role of government through subsidies and cheap student loans. Many wonder why states aren’t investing more on education given that it is probably one of the greatest keys to unlock long-term economic development. But the fact is that an increase in government spending will do little if the economics of the underlying model are unsustainable.

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Is higher education gradually being converted into a luxury?

As a full, time, 2nd year Economics student, I came back to the UK to realize that the frenzy rhythms of our in-campus life, last year, have been substantially replaced by a far less crowded campus, fewer students and a significantly altered character in the sum of students who were admitted this year. The British Higher Education system was struck by an unprecedented rise in tuition fees, seeing the undergraduate tuition scheme tripling resulting in the exclusion of a great number of potential students from being able to access it. This considerable increase in fees, quite expected but still largely opposed by the public, had been on the economic policy agenda for several years and had finally become a reality. Quite ironically though, last year it was justified as a means of paving the way out of the recession, while the very first Fresher Week of the “increased fees” academic year 2012/13, newsstands are filled with The Economist and other newspapers talking about an important recovery in British economy. I can’t help but wonder why reforms in education have been prioritized compared to other equally potent economic measures, eventually leading the country out of the recession? Isn’t accessible higher education, for all sections of the population, a palpable indication of a welfare state? How are we planning on creating a sustainable economy in the long-term, if we do not invest on education in the short term?

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Dynamic Keynotes

After lunch, students have continued participating in different workshops. The speakers of the Dynamic Keynotes were: Roxana Víquez Salazar, Daniela Kreimer, Pierre Ianni and Nora Brown.

Roxana Víquez Salazar is Regional Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at BAC, Credomatic Network. She analyzed the dimension that RSE (Corporate Social Responsibility) has taken. “CSR is the answer of managers to the multiple risks derived from economic, political, cultural and social changes from nowadays. In this sense, Víquez attributed the growth of this phenomenon to a growing environmental awareness, a higher understanding of Human rights and the development of communication through social networks. Finally, she stated that “The main objective of CSR is to contribute to sustainability”.

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Alternative education, new ways of teaching

In late April, under the theme “Inspire your ideas” took place in Buenos Aires the first universitary TEDx event in Argentina, TEDxUTN. Probably most of you already know what are these globally spread talks, but if not, you can find more information on the official website of TEDand TEDx. The event consisted of 15 talks which discussed several issues, from education and entrepreneurship, to travelling and astrology.

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New technologies in education and the pursuit of educational justice.

As part of a new society called postindustrial, postcapitalist or postmodern network society, the intensive use of knowledge becomes a major reason of production. However,  we must recognize that its dynamic does not necessarily guarantees higher levels of social justice, equity and cohesion. For this reason, for a society like ours that seeks to be democratic, this is an issue to discuss. Currently, we are under a constant progress and development of technology, but unevenly. That is because access differs between geographical, social and economic, groups. Should inequalities in access to new technologies be solved by the national education ministry or by other agents in our society? Some people understand that the school should be the preferred point of access to new technologies for democratization, others find families as the right environment.

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Better not to see you

One morning, while I was on the bus on my way to work, I suddenly saw a teenage girl carrying a back pack with the word “UGLY” on it. Without noticing I was staring at her, thinking that she was just a few years younger than me and that she wasn’t ugly at all. On the contrary, she had really nice features as well as hair and a unique skin for a girl of her age.

While looking at her, intrigued, these thoughts went around my mind: “ Does she really consider herself ugly?” , “ Did she hear this from someone?” , “may she know she aint an ugly girl?”

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