Last weekend, I was at Amsterdam representing the University of Sussex as a part of our equality and diversity team. My team comprised of Claire, who is the Vice-Chancellor of Equality and Diversity, Nicola, Katy and finally Daniel .. whose project “Grapheel/IRIS” we were showcasing. The team got ready to deploy after a lot of brain storming and a slide show showcasing all the different initiatives that have been applied and have been really successful at Sussex. But Grapheel/IRIS, was a completely different project to be showcased in the conference than any others, because IRIS is a community app designed by Daniel, who is a blind physicist, for other vision impaired researchers like himself to have the resources to understand scientific figures better. How amazing is that?
Claire started her talk talking about how Sussex has been going about building a more inclusive Sussex, not just for people who have everything “normalised” going for them in the world, but for everyone who our ancestors should have taken into account before designing the structures of this world and the essential tangible and intangible structures in the work place. This includes women, LGBTQA people, people with a wide range of disabilities, carers, people who are trying to remake themselves such as ex-prisoners with a record, less-economically able people, racial minorities and so on. Claire focussed on how we can use our research expertise and our brain power to take these steps to completion and ensure their execution and at the right moment, Daniel jumped in to talk about how he lost his vision some five years back and how he did not want to let the various frustrations push him away from his passion to do research and he combined “Be my eyes” and “Citizen Science” to create a love child called “IRIS”. You can check it out here and sign up to become one of their esteemed ambassadors here.
For me, the conference was really really amazing. And in this blog post I would like to summarise the various things I took away from this conference and what I in turn, contributed to it. The conference was amazing in the way it brought together university policy makers, university professors and researchers working on the best way forward for an inclusive atmosphere.
- Inclusivity in AI training. We were shown the video clip of the AI humanoid Sophia
as well as extensively discussed how easy it has been to past and present AI’s to learn from human bias on the internet and perpetuate this much faster. AI safety and AI governance has become a big issue, however I propose that we call it AI education to start from the bottom up approach of educating AI’s on diversity and inclusivity principles, starting them off with the right questions and data sets rather than go back and correct mistakes we see in retrospect.
- Redefining the definition of excellence in academia. Excellence is a spectrum which should potentially include normalisation to include challenges specific demographics face. This picture says a thousand words.
- Inclusivity in architecture (toilets, temperature) geared towards all genders, orientations and disabilities.
- Using our own scientific research to further an inclusive STEM.
- How to take into account invisible “disabilities” such as sexual abuse, or family responsibilities, emotional abuse, even pain during menstruation and fertility treatments which certain demographics undergo as opposed to other and how a lot of this and more certainly contributes to a power distance ( along with how it depends on the culture).
- How to make sure we go beyond unconscious bias but also consider and address conscious bias.
- How to overcome bias against ex-convicts in academia and the responsibility the media has.
There was a lot of debate and discussion on how to make sure we, as human beings can fluidly put ourselves in some one else’s experiences rather than denying them as something “foreign” and “lies” since we did not experience them firsthand. Related to this is the issue of addressing backlash against liberal movements and understanding since the losing of privilege does not come easy to people.
Would an AI government be able to fix these things? Apparently not, since the present day AI technology is spearheaded by straight white men who form only the creamy layer of a certain demographic. And the question remains, how do we go ahead?
If you wanna talk to me, I would very strongly argue that we need to go beyond and above, calling all of these “women”/minority issues since this is just excuse culture. As Claire says, these are things which should have been normal in humanity since time immemorial. We have screwed up and are forced to do error correction and so, let us all call these measures as “Ecosystem management” and make it everyone’s responsibility since we all share the same ecosystem.
Here are some slides from things that sussex has done in strive towards an inclusive STEM policies which I put together and you can find here.
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