r. Ayanna Howard and Dr. Timnit Gebru knew from the moment they met that they would have a lot to talk about. Ayanna Howard is the chair of the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, and Timnit Gebru is the co-founder of Black in AI. They first crossed paths in 2017 at the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, where they started a conversation about bias and discrimination in AI, issues they live every day as women of color in the robotics and computer vision fields.
When they got together again recently to continue that conversation, they invited us to listen in.
On how they met
Oh, I know! We were on a panel together.
Yes, I remember exactly. It was this bias in AI panel that Sanmi Koyejo was moderating. It was so cool to find out about your work on trust in AI. After that, I was like, “Who is this person? How did I not know about her until now?”
I was equally impressed.
On getting started
I always loved math. First of all, I always loved school. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “I want to be a scientist.” Since my dad was an electrical engineer, I knew it was an option. You have to remember, I went to an all-girls school in Ethiopia, so there was none of this “Girls are not supposed to do science” or “Africans or black people are underrepresented.” I’m just grateful for my childhood being completely different.
My dad was also an electrical engineer. We had role models. We could see people who were doing what we wanted to do.
I started programming in the third grade, BASIC, because of my dad. I think he thought of it as his heritage. He would bring home Radio Shack kits, and he taught me how to solder. I remember burning myself. He kept repeating, “You’ve just got to be patient.” Teaching a six-year-old to be patient with a soldering iron!
I wonder if our parents weren’t electrical engineers…
I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s an expression: you can’t be it if you can’t see it. I think that’s extremely important.