Girls in AI: Urvashi Aneja is researching the social influence of AI in India

To provide AI-focused ladies lecturers and others their well-deserved — and overdue — time within the highlight, TechCrunch is launching a series of interviews specializing in exceptional ladies who’ve contributed to the AI revolution. We’ll publish a number of items all year long because the AI increase continues, highlighting key work that usually goes unrecognized. Learn extra profiles here.

Urvashi Aneja is the founding director of Digital Futures Lab, an interdisciplinary analysis effort that seeks to look at the interplay between know-how and society within the International South. She’s additionally an affiliate fellow on the Asia Pacific program at Chatham Home, an unbiased coverage institute primarily based in London.

Aneja’s present analysis focuses on the societal influence of algorithmic decision-making techniques in India, the place she’s primarily based, and platform governance. Aneja not too long ago authored a research on the present makes use of of AI in India, reviewing use circumstances throughout sectors together with policing and agriculture.


Briefly, how did you get your begin in AI? What attracted you to the sector?

I began my profession in analysis and coverage engagement within the humanitarian sector. For a number of years, I studied using digital applied sciences in protracted crises in low-resource contexts. I rapidly discovered that there’s a fantastic line between innovation and experimentation, significantly when coping with susceptible populations. The learnings from this expertise made me deeply involved in regards to the techno-solutionist narratives across the potential of digital applied sciences, significantly AI. On the identical time, India had launched its Digital India mission and National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. I used to be troubled by the dominant narratives that noticed AI as a silver bullet for India’s advanced socio-economic issues, and the whole lack of important discourse across the subject.

What work are you most happy with (within the AI area)?

I’m proud that we’ve been in a position to attract consideration to the political financial system of AI manufacturing in addition to broader implications for social justice, labor relations and environmental sustainability. Fairly often narratives on AI concentrate on the positive factors of particular functions, and at finest, the advantages and dangers of that utility. However this misses the forest for the timber — a product-oriented lens obscures the broader structural impacts such because the contribution of AI to epistemic injustice, deskilling of labor and the perpetuation of unaccountable energy within the majority world. I’m additionally proud that we’ve been capable of translate these issues into concrete coverage and regulation — whether or not designing procurement tips for AI use within the public sector or delivering proof in authorized proceedings towards Huge Tech corporations within the International South.

How do you navigate the challenges of the male-dominated tech trade, and, by extension, the male-dominated AI trade?

By letting my work do the speaking. And by continually asking: why?

What recommendation would you give to ladies in search of to enter the AI area?

Develop your information and experience. Ensure that your technical understanding of points is sound, however don’t focus narrowly solely on AI. As a substitute, research broadly to be able to draw connections throughout fields and disciplines. Not sufficient individuals perceive AI as a socio-technical system that’s a product of historical past and tradition.

What are a few of the most urgent points dealing with AI because it evolves?

I feel probably the most urgent subject is the focus of energy inside a handful of know-how corporations. Whereas not new, this drawback is exacerbated by new developments in giant language fashions and generative AI. Many of those corporations at the moment are fanning fears across the existential dangers of AI. Not solely is that this a distraction from the present harms, but it surely additionally positions these corporations as essential for addressing AI-related harms. In some ways, we’re dropping a few of the momentum of the “tech-lash” that arose following the Cambridge Analytica episode. In locations like India, I additionally fear that AI is being positioned as essential for socioeconomic growth, presenting a possibility to leapfrog persistent challenges. Not solely does this exaggerate AI’s potential, but it surely additionally disregards the purpose that it isn’t potential to leapfrog the institutional growth wanted to develop safeguards. One other subject that we’re not contemplating critically sufficient is the environmental impacts of AI — the present trajectory is prone to be unsustainable. Within the present ecosystem, these most susceptible to the impacts of local weather change are unlikely to be the beneficiaries of AI innovation.

What are some points AI customers ought to concentrate on?

Customers should be made conscious that AI isn’t magic, nor something near human intelligence. It’s a type of computational statistics that has many helpful makes use of, however is in the end solely a probabilistic guess primarily based on historic or earlier patterns. I’m certain there are a number of different points customers additionally want to pay attention to, however I need to warning that we ought to be cautious of makes an attempt to shift accountability downstream, onto customers. I see this most not too long ago with using generative AI instruments in low-resource contexts within the majority world — quite than be cautious about these experimental and unreliable applied sciences, the main target usually shifts to how end-users, resembling farmers or front-line well being staff, must up-skill.

What’s the easiest way to responsibly construct AI?

This should begin with assessing the necessity for AI within the first place. Is there an issue that AI can uniquely resolve or are different means potential? And if we’re to construct AI, is a posh, black-box mannequin essential, or may a less complicated logic-based mannequin just do as nicely? We additionally must re-center area information into the constructing of AI. Within the obsession with large knowledge, we’ve sacrificed principle — we have to construct a principle of change primarily based on area information and this ought to be the idea of the fashions we’re constructing, not simply large knowledge alone. That is in fact along with key points resembling participation, inclusive groups, labor rights and so forth.

How can buyers higher push for accountable AI?

Traders want to contemplate all the life cycle of AI manufacturing — not simply the outputs or outcomes of AI functions. This may require a spread of points resembling whether or not labor is pretty valued, the environmental impacts, the enterprise mannequin of the corporate (i.e. is it primarily based on industrial surveillance?) and inside accountability measures throughout the firm. Traders additionally must ask for higher and extra rigorous proof in regards to the supposed advantages of AI.