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Inspiring diverse leaders for tomorrow's tech

Student with Pepper
SoftBank Robotics has partnered with SFU by supplying two of its Pepper robots for use in Invent the Future and Angelica Lim’s lab. Pepper is the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognize basic human emotions.

As artificial intelligence (AI) changes our world, SFU is helping to change the face of AI. Through its partnership with AI4ALL, a not-for-profit working to increase diversity and inclusion in AI, SFU launched Invent the Future: AI Scholars Program at the Burnaby campus last summer. The two-week summer enrichment program saw 24 Grade 11 girls explore the world of AI through team projects, industry field trips and connections with mentors and industry experts.

“We’re trying to create technology leaders, not only programmers,” says Angelica Lim, an IA roboticist and assistant professor of professional practice in computing science who spearheaded the program.

She says the program—focused on Canadian girls as they are beginning to make post-secondary plans—plays a critical role in building their confidence and interest in careers in technology, helping girls “feel they can do something in computing science and AI that is good for the world.” 

Lim was recently recognized by Forbes magazine as one of five global researchers helping to develop AI “that reflects our better selves and ambitions.”

Building humanity into technology requires diverse viewpoints, she says. When technology is created by only one homogenous group (white males, for example), that technology inevitably becomes distorted.

“It’s not just that the problems that we are attacking may only be useful for one part of the population, but that the data we’re using to build these algorithms could be biased against  many groups as well,” Lim explains.

AI4ALL, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, supports educational programs designed to give underrepresented youth—including girls, people of colour and people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds—early exposure to AI for social good.

Simon Fraser was one of six universities, and the only one in Canada, participating in AI4ALL’s official 2018 roll out. Other partners include Stanford, UC Berkeley, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon and Boston University.

The 2019 program is open to girls entering Grade 10 or 11 in the fall. For more information including sponsorship opportunities, visit bit.ly/SFU_invent