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8 amazing women in AI you need to follow

17 Feb 2023

In order to challenge the gender disparity in AI, we’re highlighting some of the amazing women working in AI in Ireland.

Click here to view the full AI and Analytics Week series.

Throughout this week, SiliconRepublic.com has been looking under the hood of AI, from the advantages and challenges that come with advanced chatbots to the importance of creating ethical AI systems.

An important element of ensuring systems are ethical and free from bias is to have diverse AI teams. But looking at just one element of that diversity – gender – the industry is still coming up short.

According to the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI’s 2021 AI Index Report, just 16pc of tenure-track faculty focused on AI are women across the world’s top universities. And there are countless more statistics that highlight the gender disparity in the sector.

But things are changing. Non-profit Women in AI has been doing amazing work in this area, working towards gender-inclusive AI for the benefit of global society.

And earlier this year, the journal Artificial Intelligence in the Life Sciences launched a new article series to highlight the contributions of women in AI in the life sciences.

With all this in mind, SiliconRepublic.com wanted to shine a light on just a few of the amazing women based in Ireland working in the area of AI whose work you should definitely be following.

Abeba Birhane

Ethiopian researcher Abeba Birhane has made a significant mark on the AI industry.

In 2020, she helped uncover racist and misogynistic terms in an MIT image library that was used to train AI.

A woman wearing a scarf and a carrying a backpack stands in a corridor of trees in a snowy park.

Image: Abeba Birhane

Birhane is a senior fellow in trustworthy AI at Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox browser, and an adjunct lecturer/assistant professor at the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin.

She’s also a PhD candidate at UCD and conducts interdisciplinary research on AI datasets and cognitive science.

Dr Patricia Scanlon

Kildare-native Patricia Scanlon is the executive chair of SoapBox Labs, which develops accurate and secure voice technology for children.

Scanlon founded SoapBox Labs in 2013 based on her own research into speech technology and the opportunity she saw in developing this tech for children.

Dr Patricia Scanlon, AI ambassador for Ireland, smiles at the camera in an outdoor setting with trees in the background.

Image: Arthur Carron

In 2021, she was appointed as Ireland’s first AI ambassador and planned to demystify AI and promote its positive impacts on Ireland’s future.

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com, Scanlon said AI could potentially be “a holy grail” if trained correctly because it could remove the danger of human bias.

Dr Georgiana Ifrim

Georgiana Ifrim was recently appointed Dublin city lead for Women in AI Ireland.

She is also an associate professor at the School of Computer Science in University College Dublin and a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded investigator with the Insight research centre for data analytics.

Ifrim is also actively shaping the next generation of machine learning talent coming out of Ireland as co-lead of ML Labs, the SFI centre for research training in machine learning.

Her research focuses on developing scalable predictive models for machine learning and data mining.

Karen Conway

Karen Conway is a director of software engineering at Fidelity Investments, having started her tech career after graduating from University of Galway with a degree in information technology.

She joined Fidelity Investments in 2001 and has spent her time holding a variety of roles across many technology disciplines, including software engineering, business analysis and project management.

Conway has a keen interest in AI, working with University of Galway and Skillnet Ireland to design a post-grad course in understanding AI for business and society.

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com, she said if those working in AI are too similar, the data being used will be built on bias. “If we can get a more diverse base working in STEM, we have access to much more perspectives,” she said.

A woman wearing a magenta blazer smiles at the camera. She's standing in a bright Fidelity Investments office.

Image: Connor McKenna/SiliconRepublic.com

Dr Begüm Genç

Dr Begüm Genç is a postdoctoral researcher working in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at University College Cork’s School of Computer Science and Information Technology. She is also part-time lecturing in the same school.

Genç studied computer engineering at the Izmir University of Economics in Turkey, before completing her MSc with a focus on information visualisation for biological pathways at Bilkent University.

Begum Genc stands on a balcony overlooking a city street.

Image: Dr Begüm Genç

Recently, she became the Ireland ambassador for Women in AI, a global organisation looking to close the gender gap in this area of tech.

Last year, she spoke to SiliconRepublic.com about her areas of AI research, the importance of ethical design, and how being a woman in this field is ‘not always easy’.

Niamh Donnelly

Niamh Donnelly is the co-founder and chief robotics officer at Dublin start-up Akara Robotics.

Akara has focused on developing AI and robots for the healthcare sector, making a mark with social care robot Stevie and disinfection robot Violet.

Niamh Donnelly of Akara Robotics is holding an award.

Image: Niamh Donnelly

Donnelly has a key role to play when it comes to the tech and AI behind these robots, which are being tested in Ireland and beyond.

In December 2022, she was among the winners of the EU Prize for Women Innovators, picking up the prize in the Rising Innovators category, which recognises entrepreneurs under 35.

Alessandra Sala

Alessandra Sala is an Italian computer scientist specialising in distributed algorithms for graph theory, social network analysis and data privacy.

Currently, she works as the director of AI and data science at Shutterstock, having previously worked as head of analytics research at Bell Labs.

Alessandra Sala holds a microphone and speaks in front of a screen for a women in AI event at Trinity Business School

Image: Alessandra Sala

She is the global president of Women in AI, working with a strong community of women to foster diversity, inclusion and equality for women and minorities while encouraging a global ethical approach in AI.

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com in 2020, Sala said a different approach is needed to tackle the gender problem in AI.

“The model is not to just state that we have a problem. Stating that we have a problem is obvious to everyone,” she said. “Sharing the same experience and stopping there, it doesn’t move the needle.”

Dr Amelia Kelly

Amelia Kelly has more than a decade of experience in speech signal processing, natural language processing, machine learning and AI.

Having been with Soapbox Labs since 2015, she was promoted to vice-president of speech technology in 2021.

In November 2022, Kelly was recognised as AI person of the year at the AI Awards and was promoted to CTO at SoapBox Labs.

Speaking on an online panel at Future Human in 2020, she said there has been a shift in people’s perceptions of AI away from the sci-fi computer villains. “They’re realising that, no, actually this technology is here to make the teacher’s job easier,” Kelly added.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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