Ada-AI Seeks to Build a Diverse Artificial Intelligence Community

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Ada-AI was founded by Sarah Porter, founder of Inspired Minds and World Summit AI. She connected with Roya Mahboob, an Afghan software entrepreneur who runs a program bringing computers and the Internet to young schoolgirls in her country. Last summer, Porter offered to bring an all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan to the World Summit AI in Amsterdam.

The team, which was being sponsored by Mahboob’s nonprofit, Digital Citizen Fund, was denied visas to enter the United States to attend the FIRST Global Challenge, an international robotics contest being held in Washington, DC. (The team was eventually granted visas and participated in the competition.)

I first met Mahboob in 2012 during reporting trips I made to Afghanistan, which resulted in my writing about her challenges in being a woman entrepreneur and a founder of a tech company in that country. The next year, she was included in Time magazine’s top 100 influential people in the world.

The sort of tenacity needed to persevere as an entrepreneur in Afghanistan prompted Gary Marcus, the CEO and founder of Geometric Intelligence and the former director of Uber AI Labs, to join Ada-AI’s board. And, he added, as a white male, he felt it was important to lend his voice and support to an effort focused on bringing a more diverse set of people into technology.

Marcus told me that he’s seen the lack of diversity in the labor pool of those with AI skills first-hand. While building up Geometric Intelligence, he said prospective employees skewed heavily male. “Individual companies must do everything they can to have more diverse staffs,” he said. “I think what Ada-AI’s trying to do is important.”

The issue, he adds, also hits close to home. “I have a three-and-a-half year-old daughter who is showing signs of wanting to be an engineer,” Marcus says. “I want her to feel like that’s a reasonable thing for her to do if that’s where her talents lie.”

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