“I’m close to artificial intelligence (AI) and it scares the hell out of me,” said Elon Musk during HBO’s Westworld panel at South by Southwest this year. “It’s capable of vastly more than anyone knows, and the improvement is exponential.” Musk cited the example of AlphaGo, Google DeepMind’s artificial-intelligence program best known as the first computer program to defeat a professional human player at the boardgame Go. The AI had been trained to tackle the Chinese game “Go,” which is a 2,000-plus year old abstract war simulation. In 2016, Google announced that its program had defeated every other Go-playing software — and a formidable human opponent, Fan Hui, a European champion. Then, it bested the world champion, Lee Sedol, four games out of five, in a competition that was live-streamed on YouTube.
The threat of machines getting smarter than their creators is so real, in fact, that Musk calls for public oversight to ensure the technology is developed safely. “The danger of AI is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads — by a lot,” Musk said. “Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes.”
We do not want to be paralyzed by fear. At the annual Milken conference this week, there was a much more optimistic tone as AI was brought up in many of the sessions. The conference highlighted some of the positive real world work being done by women in AI and how AI’s applications are being brought into the present. Women are proving that AI is not limited to the scary future of man vs. machine, they’re running companies currently utilizing AI in healthcare, fashion and retail; real world applications of AI that other women can appreciate and sink their teeth into.
In a Milken session about AI and medicine, Dr. Iya Khalil spoke about AI and healthcare. She is the female co-founder of GNS Healthcare, a healthcare analytics company using the latest innovations in machine learning to turn data into solutions that slow disease progression, reduce adverse events and and optimize therapeutic effectiveness. Khalil is a tech entrepreneur, physicist and inventor that is leading the charge in harnessing data to transform our health.
At Milken, Khalil spoke about how AI and machine learning can reduce drug discovery times and enable precision medicine with the goal of improving outcomes and reducing the costs of R&D. Her goal is to leverage these capabilities to transform medicine from an expert-driven field – with poor predictive power and large gaps in its fundamental understanding of human biology – and transform it into a data-driven predictive science – with a more complete understanding of the mechanisms of disease and response to interventions.
A seasoned fashion-tech entrepreneur, Sartan founded Trends Brands, a Russian online store, which in 2011 won Best New Shop by TimeOut Moscow. She was a finalist for Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015. Milkis-Edwards as the fashion editor of InStyle Magazine was tired of the fashion industry’s push to keep buying. They joined forces to create an alternative to the current broken fashion supply chain and customer experience.
“We learned how to digitize our users’ fashion taste,” says Epytom Founder and CEO Anastasia Sartan. “Most people can’t explain why they like or hate a certain look. We replace ‘why’ with ‘how.’ Instead of trying to get into a user’s head, we employ neural networks to reverse-engineer their style profile through signals they send on a whim: ‘I’d totally wear this outfit!’ or ‘I’d never buy a skirt like this!’ Neural networks unlock what neither we, nor the user, can put into words.”
Epytom aims to eliminate mass production that leaves stores with dead stock and shoppers with an overwhelming choice of subpar apparel. They also save time, eliminating the need to pile through racks of clothes attempting to find just the right item to buy or outfit for the day. Also, Epytom saves their customers money by teaching their old and new personalized clothes “new tricks.” It is the company’s mantra that you can have perfect style with as few as 40 pieces.
The uses of AI are far reaching and it’s important to have women take the lead in machine-learning initiatives that are geared towards their end user, women. The real-world applications of AI that women are creating are far away from the futuristic gloom and doom stories you may hear at SXSW about robot takeovers and are bound to improve millions of lives. In the near future we’ll have even more women to thank for advances in AI due to programs like AI4ALL, a nonprofit with summer programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley. They give AI training to diverse groups of high school students, focusing on teaching female, minority, and low-income students. AI4ALL received funding from Melinda Gates in 2017 and is adding four more universities in 2018.
I am encouraged by the advancements in AI and the part women have played in healthcare and in industries like fashion that are so far-reaching. For now, instead of being scared about the takeover of humanity, I’m happy to focus on using AI for good, right now. I’ll leave the fear-mongering to Elon Musk.
Image: NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 12: Model, philanthropist, and investor Natalia Vodianova, Epytom founder and CEO Anastasia Sartan, and MSNBC ‘Your Business’ host JJ Ramberg speak onstage during Vanity Fair’s Founders Fair at Spring Studios on April 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)