Women in AI: Anna Korhonen studies the intersection between linguistics and AI

Women in AI: Anna Korhonen studies the intersection between linguistics and AI


To amplify the voices of women academics in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), TechCrunch is featuring a series of interviews celebrating their contributions to the AI revolution. Throughout the year, TechCrunch aims to shed light on the remarkable work of these women, which often goes unnoticed.

Today, we turn the spotlight on Anna Korhonen, a distinguished figure in

natural language processing (NLP) and a professor at the University of Cambridge. In addition to her academic role, Korhonen serves as a senior research fellow at Churchill College and holds fellowships at the Association for Computational Linguistics and the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems.


With a rich academic background, including a PhD in computer science and master’s degrees in computer science and linguistics, Korhonen is deeply immersed in NLP research. Her work focuses on advancing computational techniques to address the evolving demands of AI, with a particular emphasis on responsible and “human-centric” NLP. Korhonen’s research delves into understanding human cognitive, social, and creative intelligence, aiming to leverage these insights in AI development.




how did you get your start in AI? What attracted you to the field?

I’ve always found the intricacies of human intelligence, especially in the realm of language, incredibly captivating. Despite this fascination, my passion for STEM subjects and my inclination towards practical applications steered me towards studying engineering and computer science. Opting to specialize in AI was a natural choice for me, as it offers a unique opportunity to merge my diverse interests. In this field, I can explore the complexities of human intelligence while leveraging technology to create innovative solutions and address real-world challenges.


What work are you most proud of in the AI field?

While delving into the intricate science of constructing intelligent machines is undeniably enthralling, the true essence of our pursuit of AI lies in its practical applications. Personally, I take immense pride in the intersection of my fundamental research in natural language processing (NLP) and its tangible outcomes. I find fulfillment in developing tools that contribute to social and global well-being.

For instance, I’ve been involved in projects aimed at understanding and combating diseases like cancer and dementia by harnessing the power of AI-driven analysis. Additionally, I’ve worked on applications designed to enhance educational experiences.

My current research endeavors are deeply rooted in a mission to harness AI’s potential for the betterment of humanity. I firmly believe that AI holds immense promise for fostering positive social impact on a global scale. As an educator, a significant aspect of my role is to inspire and nurture the next generation of AI scientists and leaders, guiding them towards realizing this transformative potential.


How do you navigate the challenges of the male-dominated tech industry and, by extension, the male-dominated AI industry?

I consider myself fortunate to be working within a sector of AI where a significant female presence exists, accompanied by well-established support networks. These networks have been invaluable in helping me navigate both professional and personal challenges throughout my career.

However, I find that one of the most pressing issues in our field stems from the dominance of male voices shaping the trajectory of AI. The current emphasis on developing ever-larger AI models at all costs exemplifies this imbalance. This trend significantly influences the priorities of academia and industry alike, with far-reaching socioeconomic and environmental implications.

Questions regarding the necessity and consequences of these larger models are paramount, yet I believe they would have been raised much earlier had there been better gender balance in the field. Achieving greater diversity and inclusion in AI is not only essential for promoting fairness and equity but also for fostering a more holistic and conscientious approach to technological advancement.


What advice would you give to women seeking to enter the AI field?

The field of AI is in dire need of greater representation of women across all levels, particularly in leadership roles. Unfortunately, the existing leadership culture in AI may not always appeal to women. However, by actively engaging and participating, we have the power to reshape this culture and, in turn, transform the broader culture of AI.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that women are not always adept at supporting each other, but fostering a shift in attitudes can facilitate meaningful change. We must embrace a collective mindset of networking and mutual support to drive progress towards achieving better gender balance in the field.

By actively collaborating, advocating for one another, and creating supportive environments, we can cultivate a more inclusive and equitable landscape within AI. This not only benefits individual women but also contributes to the advancement and diversification of the field as a whole.


What are some of the most pressing issues facing AI as it evolves?

The rapid evolution of AI from an academic pursuit to a global phenomenon in just a decade is nothing short of remarkable. However, much of this progress has been focused on scaling through extensive data and computation, with insufficient attention given to how this technology can best serve humanity.

There is a valid cause for concern regarding the safety, trustworthiness, and broader societal impact of AI. Issues such as job displacement, threats to democracy, environmental implications, and ethical considerations loom large in the public consciousness.

To address these concerns, it is imperative that we urgently pivot towards a human-centered approach to AI development. Placing human needs and safety at the forefront of our efforts can help ensure that AI is wielded responsibly and ethically. By prioritizing the well-being and interests of individuals and communities, we can harness the transformative potential of AI while mitigating its risks and maximizing its benefits for humanity.


What are some issues AI users should be aware of?

Despite its remarkable advancements, current AI systems still fall short in several key areas compared to human cognition. One glaring gap is the lack of comprehensive world knowledge and an understanding of the intricate social contexts and norms that govern human interactions. Even the most sophisticated AI technologies are prone to errors, and our capacity to anticipate or prevent these mistakes remains limited.

While AI can undoubtedly serve as a valuable tool for various tasks, it is essential to recognize its limitations. Entrusting AI with tasks such as educating children or making critical decisions may carry significant risks. Ultimately, humans must retain control and oversight over AI systems, ensuring that they are used responsibly and ethically.

By maintaining human oversight and decision-making authority, we can leverage the benefits of AI while safeguarding against potential pitfalls. This approach acknowledges the unique capabilities of both humans and AI, fostering a harmonious relationship between the two and maximizing their respective strengths.


What is the best way to responsibly build AI?

The prevailing tendency among AI developers to consider ethics as an afterthought, rather than a foundational principle, is a concerning trend. Ethical considerations should be integrated into the development process from the outset, rather than as a mere addendum once the technology is built. Asking critical questions such as whether the development team is diverse enough to ensure fairness, whether the data used is truly representative of all user populations, and whether the techniques employed are robust should be fundamental steps at the outset of any AI project.

While education plays a crucial role in addressing these issues, regulatory measures are necessary to enforce ethical standards and ensure accountability. The emergence of national and global AI regulations represents a significant step forward in this regard. Continued efforts to develop and implement robust regulatory frameworks are essential to guarantee the safety, fairness, and trustworthiness of future AI technologies. By establishing clear ethical guidelines and enforcing compliance, we can foster the responsible development and deployment of AI systems, ultimately enhancing their societal impact and promoting public trust in the technology.


How can investors better push for responsible AI?

As AI regulations continue to emerge, companies will inevitably face the imperative to comply with these standards. However, beyond mere compliance, it is crucial for organizations to embrace responsible AI as a core principle. Just as sustainability has become a guiding principle in business practices, responsible AI should be viewed as an essential investment worth prioritizing.

Responsible AI entails not only adhering to regulatory requirements but also proactively addressing ethical considerations, social impacts, and potential risks associated with AI technologies. By adopting responsible AI practices, organizations can mitigate negative outcomes, build trust with stakeholders, and foster long-term sustainability in their AI initiatives.

Investing in responsible AI involves integrating ethical principles, transparency, accountability, and fairness into every stage of the AI lifecycle, from design and development to deployment and monitoring. This approach not only aligns with societal expectations but also positions companies as ethical leaders in the AI landscape.

Ultimately, responsible AI is not just a legal obligation but a strategic imperative. By prioritizing ethical considerations and sustainability in AI initiatives, companies can unlock the full potential of AI while promoting societal well-being and long-term success.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!