Why Diversity in the Artificial Intelligence Sector Is Critical

June 12, 2018, 10:22 AM UTC

Artificial intelligence offers limitless potential for the financial industry, but at Fortune‘s MPW International Summit on Tuesday Mastercard vice chairman Ann Cairns also called attention to some of its existential risks.

Cairns had recently been in China, where she said it was clear to her that AI was taking off there in a big way—just as it has in Silicon Valley. The question, she says, is whether we will “perpetuate an East-West divide by having different philosophical views as we teach the computers how to think.”

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This human element of AI is also why it’s important to get more women into STEM, she said. Cairns, who became vice chairman of Mastercard (MA) earlier this month, noted that if we don’t have a diverse group of people working on AI, “we’re going to get computers that think like some bro culture on the West Coast.” She added, “That’s not so great.”

She highlighted the importance of inclusion, saying, “There’s no point having the Internet of everything if you don’t have the Internet of everyone.” To get more women into STEM fields, “you’ve got go grab girls young, and tell them it’s fun.”

Cairns has firsthand experience being a pioneer in her field. She started her career with British Gas and was the first woman in Britain approved to work on an offshore oil rig.

She joined the company as a research scientist (the only woman at her research station), and pushed to work offshore when she realized that was where the cutting edge of the business was. One of the challenges she had to navigate being the only woman on the oil rig? “There were no ladies’ loos.”

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