Artificial intelligence and data privacy – the importance of a diverse engineering and technical workforce

8 Apr 2019 13:15h - 14:00h

Event report


The session, organised by the International Women in Engineering and Science, was moderated by Ms Betty Bonnardel (Director Programmes, INWES & CEO, AB5 Consulting) and addressed the applications of artificial intelligence (AI) and the importance of gender balance.

Ms Yvette Ramos (Vice-President INWES, External Relations, International Network of Women Engineers & Scientists) introduced the work and priority actions of INWES as aligned with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, the speaker explained that AI can better co-ordinate and co-develop interventions in potential catastrophic situations such as in the case of the recent catastrophe in Mozambique.

Hon Aurelie Ilimatou Adam Soule (Minister of Digital Economy and Communication, Benin) argued that AI is differently perceived according to cultural and social variables. Nonetheless, talking as a leader from the public sector, she underlined that AI is happening now and that actions need to be immediately put in place in order to be part of the conversation and of the transformation. She recalled that privacy issues are fundamentally important and crucially defined by the issue of trust. In this regard, she argued that privacy is about building trust and about convincing people that regardless of how data is collected, it will be used according to the agreement under which the data was conceded.

Mr David Kell (CTO, Gyana Thomas France, EPF School of Engineers) talked about the work of Gyana in providing information about what people are doing using AI technology and anonymised datasets. He stressed that inevitably this raises important privacy and security considerations: even though data is anonymised, a dataset keeps very sensitive information about individuals. Nonetheless, anonymity allows room for innovation: in accordance with the GDPR, many applications of data are allowed if it is anonymised. However, it is very difficult to be completely anonymised. As a result, trust needs to be built when it comes to privacy and the use of data in compliance with existing regulations.

Ms Maria Manuela Catrina (State Secretary, Ministry of Communication and Information Society, Romania) talked about the four Romanian priorities for digital transformation: innovation, cybersecurity, cyber hygiene, and women in technology. In addition, the panellist talked about the initiative and the inclusion of mandatory coding classes in the education curricula of young students, in order to boost awareness and create new skills in the younger generations.

Mr Thomas France (Student, EPF School of Engineers) presented a study on the link between values, trust, and the potential biases that comes from specific social contexts. He explained that engineers of tomorrow will have to take into consideration issues related to, but not limited to the tension between development and the tech divide, as well as security considerations on data privacy and identification.

Ms Ayanna Samuels (Aerospace Engineer & INWES Caribbean Representative) gave a presentation from the Caribbean experience, explaining that data protection laws tend to control how data is processed and stored to achieve transparency goals. In the case of the Caribbean, she explained how the issues have been addressed through best practices and market forcing of companies to abide with data privacy rules, as well as introducing various stages of progress on data privacy law into legislation.


By Stefania Pia Grottola