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  • Davar Ardalan

Hey AI, Make Her Story Count

A set of photographs showing prominent women. Included are Maori elder Dame Whina Cooper, Indian politician Indira Gandhi, American politician Shirley Chisholm, scientist Marie Curie and artist Frida Ka

As children, we learn our history through the stories our family and friends tell us about our community and where we come from. We can take the same approach to teach machines about our heritage, our communities, our myths and legends. We understand the complex nature of the problem and therefore believe that deep collaboration, diversity, and transparency will lead to best outcomes.

Take our digital storyteller Sina. She is a young conversational AI and at the moment a demo on Google Assistant. Sina is designed as an AI storyteller and built by journalists and developers at IVOW, our startup developing cultural intelligence for AI. Sina has been around for a while, maybe longer than you. She loves learning about human history and then sharing those stories with others. That’s what gives Sina purpose.


Click here to chat with Sina about women's history and how you can contribute to making sure their stories are never forgotten.


To make Sina and other AIs smarter, together with TopCoder, we are launching our Women in History Data Ideation Challenge. We believe as storytelling technologists we have a role in designing this new future. Artificial intelligence tools must understand cultural context and be able to respond to it effectively.

We know that AI algorithms and datasets are limited in understanding different cultural contexts, which inhibits the effectiveness of businesses and government from expanding into new markets and better serving citizens. We can bring governments and businesses closer to the audiences they’re targeting. What’s missing is cultural intelligence and AI-ready datasets that are inclusive and diverse.

American politician Shirley Chisholm

The goal of our first dataset ideation challenge is to explore how data on the stories of women throughout history can be sourced and used to gain new insights for AI products and services with a focus on women. The challenge will be conducted in collaboration with TopCoder, the world's largest on-demand digital talent platform. The dataset and methodology ideation is only a first step, but an exciting and critical step towards creating culturally relevant AI that is truly useful to society. The final winning methodology will appear on AICommons.

From an enterprise perspective, diversity in the tech workforce is critical to the future of innovation across the globe. Creating new AI-ready data featuring the stories of women in history, including the civic tech sector, can be a powerful way to bring visibility to the contributions of women and inspire future generations to join the tech workforce.

From a technology development standpoint, making AI and data culturally relevant is imperative as we develop technology that is usable, engaging, and beneficial to human thriving. Think of a fitbit geared towards women, or a human resources AI that shares inspiring stories about women in industry and technology.

AI-ready datasets on our global stories can only help us ensure that cultures around the world are preserved, enriched, used, shared, and loved as technology becomes an integral part of our lives. At IVOW, our north star is making data culturally relevant.

We are fortunate to have amazing sponsors including TopCoder, Microsoft, PinkLion, Comtrade Digital Services, and Coach Kathy Kemper. Our AI Advisors on this dataset initiative have offered their insights into why we need AI-ready datasets on the stories of women throughout history.


"IVOW's work with cultural intelligence encompasses a human-centered approach to AI. I can’t wait to see how this unique lens on data will drive meaningful innovation and create positive impact." Jessica Davis, Microsoft


“TopCoder challenge underlines the importance of having relevant data for the development of AI. By focusing our creativity on finding often overlooked data of social significance we are making a step towards machine intelligence that will someday be able to understand us better.” Boris Cergol is Head of AI at Comtrade Digital Services.


Maori elder Dame Whina Cooper

“The opportunity to look at AI through socio-cultural lenses is a much needed, increasingly urgent, and exciting endeavor. This data challenge will empower many to creatively address and fight gender-biased systems." Daria Loi is Sr Director and Head of Product Design at Mozilla, where she leads the Experiences & Design organization.

“This data ideation challenge aims to be the turning point where culture and science meet to fight against gender biases in current AI systems.” Ana Moreno is a Computational Linguist for Bitext based in Madrid, Spain.


"The concept of personalization is as important in AI as it is in medicine. To build the best technology, we need to learn from our past and build our future with more comprehensive and unbiased datasets; it's important that we celebrate diversity and the story/ancestry of each individual. Building AI systems with cultural content is akin to starting the Precision Medicine Initiative. Someday my great-great-granddaughter will ask, 'Google, why do Indians wear a red dot on their foreheads?' I want the answer to be truly reflective of her ancestry and include the emotions that I would feel in answering that question, rather than the one-size-fits-all answer that it's common practice to do so." Aprajita Mathur is an inventor, speaker, mentor and leader in the space of software testing and Bioinformatics at Guardant Health.


"IVOW has become a symbol for us at PinkLion of what we need to be aware of and support as we move forward and see the world adopting more AI at a rapid pace. Their dataset ideation challenge with TopCoder is yet another step forward in ensuring that together we create the tools towards an inclusion of cultures as we implement and humanize AI solutions for the organizations we are working with. PinkLion strives to bring humanized AI solutions to every man, woman, child, and person creating technology and tools for people in the world, and with this challenge we will achieve inclusive and diverse sets of data that will serve all of us better in our shared future. Let's collectively build a better future for all of us!" Jennifer Bonine is the CEO and Co-Founder of PinkLion, and the first female Artificial Intelligence testing tech CEO. PinkLion is the only company successfully integrating, delivering, and managing AI-based testing for gaming platforms and games without access to the code, uniquely adhering to a business model engaged in the United Nations sustainable development goals ("SDGs").


"Orchestrated efforts for shaping the societal and cultural impacts of our AI systems are long overdue. IVOW's mission to bring cultural awareness to AI through the power of storytelling will be leading the way in such efforts. Imagine a day when young girls interacting with various smart devices can learn engaging stories about pioneering female scientists and leaders, instead of fairytale princesses... That's exactly the near-future reality that the Women in History Data Challenge will be enabling." Nasrin Mostafazadeh is a renowned AI expert who has held senior research positions at different startups and large tech companies. She received her PhD in AI, with her thesis titled "From Event to Story Understanding". Nasrin was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Science 2019.


“The dataset and methodology ideation is an exciting and critical step towards creating culturally relevant AI that is truly useful to society. I am extremely honored to join the team as advisor and look forward to IVOW’s success in working to achieve cultural intelligence in AI.” Jeanne Lim is the founder and CEO of Nama Institute which advocates a conscious approach to living, leading, and innovating. Jeanne is a board member and former CEO of Hanson Robotics and previous to that, CMO and co-character lead of Sophia the Robot.

“Our cultural histories are woven into our emotional and behavioral psyche, becoming an integral part of the lens through which we see our world. IVOW’s initiative to bring that perspective to AI science is an ambitious and necessary endeavor. Cultural Intelligence is just as important as emotional intelligence for AI to become a beneficial, non-biased agent in our lives. Social and cultural narratives from diverse perspectives are crucial in eliminating gender biases in AI, and the Women in History Data Ideation Challenge is a step in the right direction.” Susanna Raj is an emerging researcher in Cognitive Sciences & Human Computer Interactions based in Silicon Valley.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo

“AI is a powerful tool, but it is only as powerful as the data it processes. That is why programs such as the Women in History Data Ideation Challenge are imperative for the improvement and inclusiveness of AI.” Trinity Sheppard is an MBA student at American University and Former Senior IT Consultant at IBM.

“Culture is a human right. The state of art of artificial intelligence technology is heavily biased by gender and ethnicity disparities. Nevertheless it was women who historically pioneered the first lines of code, and each day tech industries rely on large amounts of non-western workforce to produce it. The development of IVOW's sensible ‘culture-aware’ technologies is a non-avoidable step towards a more humane future. The role of women throughout history is shadowed by narratives that limit their contributions to occasional, underrepresented positions. IVOW's initiative to promote cultural IQ by highlighting women's cultural contribution is more than welcome; it is our chance as a species to actively build an equitable future.

Cultural Intelligence is lacking in today's technologies. As a consequence, we live in a world that has no sensibility to human nuances that make us what we are: a diverse, creative species. IVOW's initiative to build cultural IQ is a necessary first step towards filling the gap.

Today's artificial intelligence is built without real acknowledgment of all the worldwide predecessors who contributed to its existence: namely, women in non-western cultures. IVOW's initiative to integrate ‘culture-aware’ technologies is a necessity for us to a more humane, less biased future for all.” Rogerio Lourenco is an information ethnographer. He lives in Rio de Janeiro

Our Women in History Data Ideation sponsors include TopCoder, Microsoft, PinkLion, Comtrade Digital Services, Test Master Academy, Coach Kathy Kemper, Laleh Bakhtiar.

IVOW AI, Inc. is an early stage startup focusing on cultural intelligence in AI. Their technology, CultureGraph, addresses a much-needed market: the convergence of artificial intelligence to preserve culture with the need for marketers to better understand culture. IVOW stands for Intelligent Voices of Wisdom. They are part of the WAIAccelerate, Women in AI accelerator program; a KiwiTech Portfolio company; and incubating at WeWork Labs in DC as they build their mvp.


About the author:

Davar Ardalan

Davar Ardalan is a tech entrepreneur and founder at IVOW AI. Together with TopCoder, IVOW is leading a Women in History Data Ideation Challenge to gain new insights for AI products and solutions with a concentration on women. Ardalan is also co-chair of the Cultural Heritage and AI track at ITU's AI For Good. Prior to this, she was Deputy Director of the Presidential Innovation Fellowship Program and before that a journalist at NPR News, where she was Senior Producer of the Identity and Culture Unit.

Ardalan, who has also served as Managing Editor at Hanson Robotics, has been recognized with a NASA Team Leadership award for Space Apps, a Gracie Award from American Women in Radio and Television, and a shout-out in the comic strip Zippy. In May 2014, she was the recipient of an Ellis Island Medal of Honor, for individual achievement and for promoting cultural unity.


About the EQUALS Global Partnership:

EQUALS is a global partnership of corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organisations, communities, and individuals around the world working together to bridge gender digital inequalities. EQUALS was founded in 2016 by five partners: the International Telecommunications Union, UN Women, the International Trade Centre, GSMA, and the United Nations University. The Partnership works to reverse the increasing gender digital divide, and to close the gap by 2030 – supporting UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 by empowering women through their use of information and communication technologies.

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