“One must have once looked upon the moon, with a curious, brave and open heart, until then one is fully prepared to face the life, the struggling and one-time life.”
We are talking about tiny but precious fragments.
Our story began with the interests about “truth.” It was a good topic that had such a magic that it could gather people for the same purpose. The moment we decided to do something great, we felt there was a fire burning inside of us.
“Let’s call ourselves Open Sesame!”
Before forming this team, our relationship was very simple – just nodding acquaintances. By chance, we have been combined to think and work（I’d like say struggle) together in the past six months. We did not expect the first problem was to name our team. Actually, the meaning of the name is very simple. In the preliminary stage, our main research object is “tech giant” Alibaba group. When inspiration came, Ling said Open Sesame was the most magical spell of Alibaba. Then, our name was settled.
Welcome to the latest edition of our Diversity & Inclusion Friday News Round Up. Today we are talking about Microsoft’s “AI for Accessibility” program, Simone Giertz must watch TED talk, Amazons HQ2 and the opportunities that will come with it, and why NASA had to shut down the voting for a high school competition. Happy Friday!
Amazon, like most tech firms, is struggling with diversity – 73% of their professional employees and 78% of their leadership are men. With the planning of HQ2, their second headquarter that will lead to the opening of 50000 new jobs, they now have the opportunity to change the number of women and minorities in their workforce fast. Watch the video here.
Inclusion & Tech
Microsoft just announced that they are launching a USD 25M initiative called “AI for Accessibility”. The program will run over the next 5 years and will give grants to startups, universities and NGOs to develop artificial intelligence solutions to support people with disabilities.
Racism / Girls in STEM
NASA just had to shut down a voting competition ahead of time – because of racism. One of the teams competing in the high-school competition invented a method to purify water in drinking fountains, and the team was made up of three black girls. Unfortunately, members of a forum known for racism attempted to hack the competition to make sure the girls won’t win – which then led to NASA announcing that the voting was suspended.
Women in STEM
Simone Giertz is not an engineer, but she made a career in STEM, inventing useless robots. She just released a new TED talk on Wednesday and its fun! Definitely a must watch.
One fine ochre-winter day, four students met in a dingy room of a public library to discuss, process and create a product which shall make people aware about their rights online, help them to understand the baroque language of terms and conditions and change the way customer agreements are read. The process was simple: to work as a team for the project. But that day the passion in our hearts, the gleam in our eyes and the utmost belief in our idea nurtured it into a dream. A dream of climbing the stairs of Nobel Museum someday, a dream of flying to a country 3982.368 miles away from home, a dream of creating TL;DR. So, friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears, here’s a story of how dreams come true!
From Brainstorming to the semi-finals
It was in August when Neelabh called me to wish me on my birthday and between the discussions of samosas and snacks, I first told him about Ericsson Innovation Awards, a competition I read about while casually browsing the internet. Since the last year’s theme was food, we speculated that the theme might be medicine or healthcare this year. While I was recovering from chronic Typhoid and Neelabh was busy with his own studies, we could not catch up for almost four months. It was on 8th November when on a chilly winter evening of Delhi, Neelabh literally came running to my hostel and told me that we have just one week to submit our idea on the theme – Future of truth. So, then and there, we pulled out our notepads and brainstormed day and night for the entire week.
We were particularly interested in the fact that (almost) no one reads end-user license agreements (EULAs). One company, PC Pitstop, decided to prove this in 2005 by sticking a note inside their EULA which announced a monetary reward to a limited number of users who e-mailed them about it. In the end, it took “five months and more than 3,000 sales before the first person dropped us a line asking about the clause.” That customer won $1,000. This became the basis of our idea and finally took the form of “TL;DR”.
With semester exams hovering over our heads and just a week in hand, we valued each second that passed by. On top of it, Neelabh had to skip his practical exam to submit the idea on time. But all pains got assuaged, when team TL;DR got selected for the semi-finals. We were at the zenith of happiness.
When I tell my others that I am an intern at Ericsson, they invariably ask what we do here. My response is almost always a recitation of our current initiatives- how we’re involved in telecommunications, IoT, and the push toward 5G. I can’t speak to specifics because I am not a STEM professional. I’m finishing my second degree in Economics at the University of Texas at Dallas and starting law school soon. I don’t know how to code, customize a solution, run a program, or even work a computer outside of Word and Adobe. (Can you guess that the Help Desk is my best friend?) I can’t relate to woes of missing a line in code or finding a bug in a big project because I frankly don’t know what that even means.
I work at a tech company, but I work for tech employees. For my entire time at Ericsson, I have been a paralegal intern. I recognize each person’s job title, but I don’t know what their day to day responsibilities are after we hang up the phone. However, I care immensely about what each Ericsson employee does. I started listening to the 5G in 5 Minutes podcasts and realized that what STEM professionals do, even beyond 5G, is miraculous! Ericsson engineers are the reason we have working phones, can play Spotify in our cars via Bluetooth, and can do so many more functionally simple yet technically complicated cool things.
Working at Ericsson has inspired me! As a non-STEM career professional, I’m most inspired by Ericsson’s efforts to recruit and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce, especially when it comes to gender. In fact, Ericsson set a goal for our workforce to be made up of at least 30% women by the year 2020. The Geena Davis Institute (GDI) on Gender in Media’s slogan really speaks to this women in tech movement: if she can see it, she can be it. While GDI’s primary focus is on how girls are portrayed in the media, the slogan is also applicable to the way girls are exposed to industry and tech. If a girl does not have a positive, female role model in STEM, how can she see herself in a career as a computer engineer, a telecom tower tech, or a solutions architect?
For me, when I met strong, female lawyers, I realized I wanted to be one. The legal profession has come a long way in that respect. We are seeing more female lawyers on the screen, in the media, and at our companies. The technology industry has not come as far. I think major technology companies hold an obligation to encouraging girls from a young age to pursue ICT interests. Young girls need to see more female professionals holding leadership roles and making a difference in STEM fields. Otherwise, how can they aspire to make a difference themselves?
This is a call to action. Internally, Ericsson employees can volunteer for events like Girls in ICT Day and Telecom Camp for Kids. Externally, I encourage more female leaders to find local Girl Scout troops to speak to, volunteer at conferences, tell your daughters and your friends’ daughters about tech. With each action we take, we help create the future of tech. That future is female.
Fake news. Post-truth. Echo chambers that reinforce cognitive biases. Pseudoscience. Chatbots pretending to be people. Targeted advertisements designed to influence your political opinions.
Misinformation, in all of its forms, is threatening to tear our societies apart. Our minds can’t handle communication at the scale modern technology enables. There are too many people with too many agendas saying too many things for us to keep everything straight.
And now that AI-powered robots entering the fray, our odds are about to get worse. Their automated, data-driven algorithms ensure that they will dominate online conversation in both volume and persuasiveness.
As students studying computer science and AI, we care a lot about this. The systems we’re learning how to build are already being used by organizations like Cambridge Analytica. As AI development becomes increasingly democratized, bad actors will increasingly use these technologies to spread computational propaganda that influences public opinion at scale.
Introducing Alfred, your personal information concierge
We want to even the scales. We believe individuals should be empowered to control their own infosphere, to be aware of attempts of others to influence their opinion on a topic, to have easy ways to fight back by consciously engaging with material from diverse viewpoints and developing nuanced understandings of complex issues.
That’s why we’re excited to build Alfred, your personal information concierge, for the Ericsson Innovation Awards. Alfred has two primary functions: flagging misinformation and recommending alternative content. Alfred will eventually fight biased news, echo chambers, fake news, and bot-generated content. For now, Alfred programmatically identifies and disrupts echo chambers by recommending perspective-broadening content.
Our story began at Stanford with research to determine whether echo chambers actually exist and prototypes of methods to disrupt them. We analysed the Michigan dataset, published by the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford, which contains 63,277 political tweets Michigan-based users tweeted between Nov 1st and Nov 11th, 2016 in the lead up to the 2016 US Presidential Election. We translated the tweet data into a graph of user interactions, characterized the networks, identified echo chambers, and designed basic recommendation systems that suggested engaging tweets from other echo chambers. We experimented with several ways to automate this process and proposed metrics for evaluating the quality of our recommendations. We presented this work at a workshop at NIPS, one of the world’s most premier machine learning conferences.
Next, we developed a recommendation engine using real-time data. We built and deployed a TwitterBot that looked for users tweeting biased news articles and recommended alternative articles on the same topic but from a different source. During coffee shop meetings between classes, and staying up late into the evening, our team wrote code to scrape bias scores from mediabiasfactcheck.com and over 130,000 news articles from various news sites. We used language identification, keyterm extraction, topic modeling, website popularity rankings from Alexa, and when the article was published to recommend engaging content through direct messages and replies. We learned a lot about what to do and, most importantly, what not to do.
We are now in the midst of developing a browser extension that automatically flags biased information and recommends alternative content. This combines all of our work so far into one platform that works on sites all across the Internet, not just Twitter. When complete, the Alfred browser extension will help you flag fake news, identify and characterize bot-generated content, and provide other features to fight misinformation. Our intention is to start simple and iteratively add complexity over time, ensuring Alfred will help anyone, anywhere find, validate, and share truthful content.
It’s been an amazing journey so far. We’ve learned so much from our mentors, from experimenting, and from thinking about how to define and categorize misinformation. The Ericsson Challenge has offered the perfect amount of structure: enough questions to force us to think through all the angles, but enough freedom that we can freely exercise our creativity. We’re super excited to continue our learning journey through the Finals, for the trip to Sweden, for the chance to tell our story and get concentrated feedback from the best Ericsson has to offer.
Winning EIA would be a dream come true. Further mentorship, funding to build a real product, and the branding boost would help us take Alfred to levels we’re currently only dreaming of. When Gutenberg invented the printing press, he proclaimed “A spring of truth shall flow from it: like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst men”.
We hope Alfred can contribute towards helping modern information technology realize that vision.
Watch team Alfred in the Grand Final on May 17
Team Alfred is on of 4 finalist teams competing to win the Ericsson Innovation Awards and 25,000 EUR. Click here to mark your calendar for the Grand Final livestream on May 17 at 6 pm GMT (1 pm US Eastern Time).
Welcome to the latest edition of our Diversity & Inclusion Friday News Round Up. Today we are talking about a very special Girl Scouts group in New York, inclusive art, the world’s best parental leave policy and how a tech company in Silicon Valley is actually making good progress in regard to their diversity numbers. Happy Friday!
A lot of tech companies in Silicon Valley have appointed Chief D&I Officers, but their diversity reports usually show very little or even no improvements.
The collaboration software company Slack on the other side decided to implement a different approach and made diversity part of their overall strategy – and it seems to be working. In comparison to other companies, they have a very high number of women in leadership and tech roles, and looking at the number of minorities they are employing, they have more than twice as many as the average tech company.
For this interesting article, the author interviewed two dads were who moved from the US, a country with basically no parental leave, to Sweden, the country with the world’s most progressive parental leave policy.
Sweden is now actually planning to modernize the family leave program and not only extend the leave for dads, but also to become more inclusive for LGBTQ families.
Inclusion & Tech
An art exhibit in Prague is helping blind or visually impaired people to “see” art. The projects is using gloves and VR and the visitors can experience various 3D objects through haptic feedback. Watch the video here.
Troup 6000 is a very special Girl Scouts group in New York that was founded just over a year ago to help homeless children. Children who grow up being homeless are twice as likely to become homeless adults as well, so Girl Scouts is trying to support them and give them perspectives.
And in other news – after announcing last year that the Boy Scouts of America will start welcoming girls, they have now revealed their new name: Scouts BSA.
We are four Senegalese students from the Polytechnic University and Ziguinchor University. Our adventure with the Ericsson Innovation Awards began when we received email that Ericsson organized a contest for students. We then submitted all the necessary elements, telling ourselves that we had nothing to lose even if we did not go through the selection phase.
We had the idea of this project because we grew up in an area of the world in which limited financial means do not allow young people to be able to express their creativity in science because of lack of materials and laboratories. By doing our university course, we thought that it is possible to use virtual reality to simulate a scientific laboratory, which is how Ownlabs was born.
We were very surprised to be selected as regional winners for Africa and the Middle East and we were very happy. Thus begins our phase of mentoring which was very difficult because of the language barrier. Indeed all of our mentors except one were anglophones, while our working language is French. We had Skype meetings of about an hour each to refine the deliverables for the semifinal. By the way, I would like to say thank you to our mentors Brian Sangudi, Alex Ofori, Tatiana Ouedanou Nwankpa, Audrey Muvezwa, Giampaola Lauri, Kavir Bhoola.
Welcome to the latest edition of our Diversity & Inclusion Friday News Round Up. I am sure you are aware that Thursday the 26th of April was Girls in ICT Day – and Ericsson celebrated with events all over the world. If you know a young innovator between the age of 9 and 18, please tell them about the “Girls Who Innovate” competition, submissions are open unit the 25th of May! In the meantime enjoy this week’s newsletter and as always – Happy Friday!
We know that companies with a diverse workforce or a diverse leadership team perform better financially. According to this study, we also have to take a close look at CEOs and the diversity of their networks. Having a diversely networked CEO creates higher company value, and in case of newly appointed CEOs, leads to a more positive reaction of the stock markets.
Uber has just released their latest diversity report and the numbers have improved slightly, but the company is still predominately white and male. Uber had massive challenges last year, with allegations that included gender discrimination and harassment and led to changes in the executive team, including the appointment of a new CEO.
Although there are more and more female senior leaders and lots of female billionaires in China, the country is still struggling with traditional gender roles. Tech companies advertise roles “for men only” and women are hired as motivators to massage their male colleagues shoulders. This very interesting NYT article has a closer look at China’s tech companies and the roles women play.
Three weeks after an Australian Rugby player made homophobic comments on social media, the New Zealand rugby teams All Blacks and Black Ferns teamed up with their sponsor AIG to release the #DiversityIsStrength campaign. The video featuring the rainbow flag says that discrimination is their next enemy and must be defeated together.
Today, along with ITU member states around the world, Ericsson celebrates International Girls in ICT Day. As we do each year, we are observing the day by hosting events and activities for young women ranging from primary school to university. And, we’re encouraging girls around the world to submit new ideas to change the future of education through the Girls Who Innovate competition, which is open for entries until May 25.
But, encouraging girls to pursue interests in Information Communication Technology, STEM and innovation is not something that we only focus on during the month of April. Our employees are passionate about ensuring that future generations of employees in the ICT industry are diverse, informed and excited.
Today, we share a past blog from the IT for SHE mentor program, which opens again in May 2018.
The IT for SHE program (from a blog published in December 2017):
In the beginning of 2017, together with few colleagues from Ericsson, I decided to join IT for SHE program as a mentor. The program aims to increase the participation of women in the high tech industry and this is done via a one-to-one mentoring relationship. You can read more about the program on its website, although you might have some trouble if you do not know Polish.
Ericsson has been part of the program in previous editions as well, but for me it was the first time. Being part of IT for SHE is fun, gives an opportunity to meet people from other ICT companies, share knowledge with them, and most of all makes you practice some useful skills.
What are the key takeaways from this experience for me and my mentee, Magdalena, so far? Read below interview by my colleague Katarzyna, to find out from two perspectives.