Special Event: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for Good

Key event takeaways 

How do we harness AI for good? How can we make it accessible and valuable for as many people as possible? Our panel of industry experts tackled these pivotal questions in a special online seminar as part of City of Sydney’s Visiting Entrepreneurs’ Program, held on Tuesday, 27 June.  

Here is a snapshot of what the guest speakers had to say. 

About co-design 

Director of Tech for Microsoft Accessibility, Dona Sarkar, wants to see, ‘…more creators and less consumers in AI, and I want people with disabilities and people from marginalised backgrounds to play a creator role’.  

If AI and new technologies are designed right, ‘nobody gets left behind, nobody gets shut out’. Co-designing products with input from diverse users ensures everyone is included, thus benefiting all users, not just some. Wayne Hawkins, Director of Inclusion at ACCAN, believes, ‘Disability and human rights need to be at the centre of any development of AI products and services’.   

About clean data 

To explain clean data, Ed Santow, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Human Technology Institute, highlighted how data and AI intersect with human bias. The less bias in the data, the cleaner the data. ‘If you’re using a machine learning system, you’ve got to assume (the training data) is going to be imperfect because most real data is imperfect.’  To illustrate this point, Ed used the example of an AI tool used to make home loan decisions, trained using a culmination of 40 years of data. Human decisions from the 80’s and 90’s, however, were biased against people of colour, women, and people with disability, and this is something Ed urges we must confront head on. 

‘We want to make sure, when we use AI to make decisions, we’re also empowering humans to be able to weigh those bits of insight, evidence, and ultimately make the right judgment about people,’ Ed Santow explained.  

Dona Sarkar emphasised the need for clean data to harness artificial intelligence for good. ‘There are (clean) data sets that exist, and where there are not, we have to grow those…this is where we need people with disabilities to play roles in that first area of being involved with AI machinery.’ 

Having clean data is one of the most critical aspects of building an AI product. As data is at the core of AI, we need to ensure it is ‘clean,’ in other words, an accurate representation of reality. At Microsoft, Dona poses rigorous questions on the data being presented, asking if the data was organised, accurate, and if the company had the right sources. If Dona’s team of tech professionals cannot say they trust the data sources to give people good information, then her answer is simple, ‘We’re not building the product’.  

Can AI be used for good? 

Wayne Hawkins from ACCAN believes new technology, and AI specifically, can be harnessed for good, explaining, ‘…for that to happen, we all have to be on the same page thinking about how we make this work for everyone…there’s going to be no exclusion from technology developed for various groups because we haven’t thought about that right from the beginning’.  

Dona expressed a statement which resonated loudly through the panel and the work done at the Centre for Inclusive Design, ‘I want people with disabilities to be involved…and go and build the world that they wish existed…and if that is what I’m going to spend the rest of my career loudly advocating for, so be it’.  

A big thank you to our panellists! 

This incredible and informative event could not have happened without the inspiring and innovative panellists. A huge thank you to Dona Sakar (Microsoft), Ed Santow (UTS Human Technology Institute), and Wayne Hawkins (ACCAN) for sharing their experience, knowledge, and sparking these crucial discussions.  

Next steps 

The audio recording of the online seminar is available in two parts via our podcast, With, not For. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date.