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The world of technology is waking up to the need to be more inclusive to the women who are part of it. This is even more true when we talk about women in leadership positions in technology companies. How can this imbalance be addressed? Here is the fundamental thinking that led to the development of the McGill University laboratory: AI for Social Good Lab.
“The program was set up to provide advance training opportunities for women in the field, and to prepare them for the job market,” said Annie Devriese, General Manager of Notman House, who took over the initiative on behalf of the OSMO Foundation, following the departure of Angélique Mannella, former Associate VP of Innovation and Partnerships at McGill.
The lab is aimed at women students in AI, at the end of their studies or following graduation after one or two years maximum, and its objective is to equip them before they enter the job market, enable them to develop a network in this environment, and push them towards leadership positions. It lasts six weeks, beginning with ten days of machine learning and technical upgrading courses for participants, with the aim of fostering an equal environment where all women have access to the same technical knowledge.
Experts in AI will lead these courses, including McGill associate professor Doina Precup, MILA researcher and DeepMind lab director, who built the curriculum for AI for Social Good with graduate students. Joëlle Pineau, also an associate professor at McGill and director of Facebook’s new artificial intelligence lab in Montreal, is also one of the brand names who will be involved in the project. “A program for women designed by women,” said Devriese.
The other weeks of the course will focus on mentoring, product development and completing an AI initiative that addresses a social problem, all punctuated by a hackathon open to the public. “We want to empower women in AI, help them be leaders,” Devriese continues. Whether as entrepreneurs or by carving out a place of choice in this sector, women will be both put in touch with large companies in the industry and push to drive their own project.
“It’s definitely a collaborative lab,” she continues. “Sponsors are also involved in time and talent, they will give courses, conferences, office hours and mentoring, in addition to money”. These include DeepMind, Element AI, CIFAR, IVADO, Desjardins Lab, Microsoft (Maluuba) and BDC. They will help build the network of participants with partners such as MILA, Shopify and Real Ventures.
The lab will see its first anniversary this year in Montreal, but its vision is already ambitious. “We want it to become a pan-Canadian program,” says Devriese.
Participants will be selected by reviewing criteria of academic excellence and involvement in the field of AI. Women from across Canada are encouraged to apply. Travel grants of up to $1,000 will be awarded as compensation and the lab, free of charge, will also offer financial support of up to $2,000.