US: The queer Latina trying to build bias-free AI

Imagine this: You’re an awkward, lonely 7-year-old who’s just moved to a new city, and your BFF is your teddy bear. Wouldn’t it be awesome if, rather than imagining Teddy’s personality, he could be a real-life, responsive friend? “I love the idea of being able to connect with something that would otherwise be an inanimate object,” says Laura Montoya, CEO and founder of Oakland-based Accel.AI, an artifical intelligence training accelerator. “Something a child could connect with and have a friendship with … I’m captivated by that idea.”

Montoya moved around a lot as a kid — from Los Angeles to Miami to Michigan — and the idea of being able to create artificial life never went away. AI is a booming industry today, but Montoya, who launched her company in September 2016, is worried that it’s becoming too homogeneous. Her goal with Accel.AI is to counteract that problem by training groups that are underrepresented in AI and make the industry more diverse.

Of course, that’s a huge oversimplification, and Montoya, 30, is frighteningly aware of the challenge she’s taken on. Over 90 percent of startups fail and 20 percent never make it past their first year, but the ginger-haired wild child is ready to go down fighting — after all, she says, if she doesn’t, who will? Deep learning and AI are often referred to as the future of work, but what about all the folks who never had a shot at learning about it?

“AI tech is a direct reflection of the people who are engineering it, so any bias by these individuals will be reflected in the products they create,” Montoya tells OZY — something she’s seen many times with “tech bros” in Silicon Valley. Looking for examples? In 2009 HP’s imaging software couldn’t recognize Asian faces, and Harvard’s Project Implicit discovered that people automatically assign positive or negative behavior to different skin tones. That’s the impetus behind Accel.AI: to make sure that diverse people have a say in tech of the future. Read more via OZY