I have a physics and aerospace engineering background and started a science education non-profit organization, Iridescent in 2006. Our goal is to bring the world’s most cutting edge, science, engineering & technology to the world’s most needy groups – especially girls. I am ambitious, energetic, focused and cannot be beaten down. I devote every waking minute to making this goal happen.
We are an education 501(c)(3) nonprofit that trains professional engineers, scientists, and parents to deliver cutting-edge STEM education to underserved girls, children and their families. Iridescent has proudly engaged more than 100,000 participants in our programs.
Tell us about your journey into Artificial Intelligence? What led you to launch an AI-company?
Iridescent is a global engineering and technology education nonprofit. We support low-income communities worldwide (especially parents) to engage their children in engineering and technology projects.
Over the past 12 years, we have been introducing hundreds and thousands of children all over the US and worldwide to cool new technologies and scientific advances in nanotechnology, aerospace, material sciences, mobile computing and robotics. It was a very natural step to begin delving into AI which needs to be part of a well-rounded STEM education and I want to make that possible for families from all backgrounds.
With the Curiosity Machine AI Family Challenge our goal is to empower and equip children from underserved communities to play a role in innovation. We do this by showing them that this field is accessible to them and that they can play a role in it right away. When they join the workforce it can be a very viable career path for them that would not only be personally fulfilling to them, but also increase society’s overall productivity.
How do you make AI deliver social goodwill?
Our first goal is to educate children – the next generation of innovators – on how the true power, to use AI for good, is with them. By demystifying artificial intelligence we’re hoping to remove some of the negative stereotypes for the next generation and foster a sense wonder and hope about how AI can deliver a brighter future.
What’s the idea behind your Curiosity Machine AI Family Challenge?
The main goal of the Curiosity Machine AI Family Challenge is to build on Iridescent’s two-generation approach, helping both parents and children develop a lifelong learning mindset — essential for society to stay fulfilled and productive in the face of rising automation. The Curiosity Machine AI Family Challenge is an initiative we launched with AAAI and Google. It is the first, global AI competition for underserved 3rd-8th grade students and parents (especially mothers) to use AI technologies and tools (sensors, data analysis tools) to solve problems in their communities, especially focused on health.
What are the foundational tenets of your partnership with Google?
We have worked with Google for over 8 years now. They have supported us by providing access to their employees who serve as mentors for our students, access to their facilities across the US and worldwide, financial resources, access to their marketing as well as technical resources. It’s been truly amazing to work with them. Last year Sundar Pichai spoke at the awards ceremony of our Technovation Competition.
For the AI project, we have been working with the Google Brain team, and also the AIY team, exploring how we can bring these tools and technologies to thousands of children and parents worldwide.
What AI research programs is Iridescent focusing on and what has been Iridescent’s most outstanding AI campaign?
What makes our work unique is that we’re explorers in uncharted territory. We are working on figuring out what the baseline of interest and knowledge about AI is – especially in low-income communities. We are working with a research firm, Veraquest, to determine how parents are looking ahead to the future and picking educational opportunities for their children to better prepare for a future alongside robots.
We are also looking more deeply into the concept of dosage and behavior. How many hours and what type of a program is needed for a child from an underserved community to develop a long-term interest in AI technologies, so much so that she will become an innovator and leader when she joins the workforce? Is it 50 hours or 100 hours or 1000? That is what we are systematically researching.
One area I am very proud of is our curriculum. We are the only educational organization that has a curriculum that makes AI concepts accessible to the broader public, especially in hands-on ways that helps people gain an intuitive understanding of these fundamental concepts.
What are the major challenges in making AI more accessible to local communities? How do you overcome these challenges?
Similar to any type of significant behavior change (weight loss, de-addiction, exercise, combating depression etc), it is not easy to learn new behaviors. We are asking people to shift their mindset to focus on lifelong learning. It’s not enough to think that if you go to college, you will be set for life. Now you may have to retrain in significant ways 3-4 or even more times in one lifetime. This can be scary and requires significant planning and infrastructure to make the learning process easy and fun – just like videogames!
Which AI start-ups and labs are you following?
I am actually following a lot of individual AI researchers (especially women), rather than startups. I have been interviewing them, learning more about their research, what they are excited about, and what advice they would give the broader public. It’s been a very exciting project! I am also closely following the work Google is doing. For instance, I have been playing with their recent AIY voice kit, that brings industry-level voice recognition software to lay users like myself – for $25. Amazing! I am also intrigued by AI-ON – an innovative alternative to graduate school and traditional research.
What applications within the AI and computing sectors are you interested in?
I am interested in a few areas – one is understanding what consciousness is about, what does it mean. Ryota Kanai at Araya (in Japan) is working on this. I was really intrigued by the questions Yuval Noah Harari raised in his book Homo Deus regarding consciousness and developing intelligent systems. Two other areas I am intrigued by are computational humor and program synthesis (machines writing code)!
As an AI leader, which industries do you think would be the fastest to adopt AI/ML?
AI has already been a part of our lives for many years. It stops being called AI when its mainstream – like GPS systems. The tech sector of course is the fastest to adopt AI, but then almost every big corporation has a tech team. So every industry will be able to increase productivity with the rise of effective AI tools. The question which I wonder about is which industry will see the biggest gains through AI. There is an interesting simulation done by the World Bank where they try to see what is the highest ROI for a particular donation. They found that money put towards the communities with highest need resulted in the highest ROI. In that sense, it would be interesting to see which industries are furthest from technology and how AI could help increase their productivity.
Besides the IoT and Pharma sectors, what are the new markets for AI technology markets?
The health (hospital care of patients, counseling etc) sector is very intriguing. Education is a huge area. Currently most ed-tech solutions are addressing this issue in a very superficial way. I feel AI has a role to play in increasing motivation and helping develop lifelong learners – and not just better test takers.
Personalized learning as it relates to taking better SAT scores is one step, but its not world changing. I think we need to aim much higher. How can AI technologies help connect people so that they can support learners and motivate them to tackle complex projects, explore new horizons, advance humanity.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
Having kids 🙂 I need to work in defined chunks of time when they go to school and after they are asleep. It forces me to prioritize and step away and look at the big picture!
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Thank you Tara! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.