Brussels, Belgium – Four incredible female engineers and researchers presented their projects in FARI’s very first Demos&Drinks with the theme, “Women in AI and robotics research” on 20 October 2022, as part of The Future of Tech is Female Week and the Women Code Week festivities.
“We all need talents that help people and focus on bringing difference for good. We can do this through diversity, the more diverse it is, the better job we can do,” shared Ann Nowé, Head AI Lab of the VUB who was among the first females in technology back in her study time. For her, it was a happy but also a sad occasion because activities to push for visibility of women researchers are still needed.
In 2020, only 18.5% of ICT specialists employed in the EU are female. With this as motivation, the event aimed to spotlight brilliant women in Brussels who are contributing to drive research and development in the field of AI, data, and robotics for the common good.
Kelly Merckaert, researcher at Brubotics – VUB, said, “It is good to have these kinds of events to make people aware of the fact that there is still a much higher percentage of men working in science. However, I don’t think the goal is to have a perfectly balanced gender ratio in science in the future. The goal is to let everyone, whatever gender, do what that person is most interested in.”
In agreement to this, Lara Verheyen, researcher at AI Lab – VUB, also hopes that “in the future of science, women do not hold themselves back and grasp every opportunity that they can.” Verheyen presented her Semantics for Visual Dialogue project, a novel and interpretable methodology that combines computational construction grammar and hybrid semantics to enable a visual question-answering dialogue about images.
1 / 10
For Raina Zakir, researcher at IRIDIA, ULB, there is still a long way to go in terms of addressing gender biases that have shaped the fields in STEM, but she is hopeful. “As more and more women are coming forward with their visions to explore various fields of sciences, I think we are slowly and gradually getting back on track. Swarm Robotics is a field heavily dominated by men. Fortunately, I have had several male colleagues that have helped, guided, and encouraged me to become a part of this community. I hope this attitude becomes a norm to drive women towards science,” says Zakir who presented her project on Swarm robotics (a group of simple robots that communicate locally with their peers in the environment to perform a common task).
Similarly, Carmen Mazjin, researcher at the VUB Data Lab, said, “as a woman scientist I hope to be able to encounter many brilliant women scientists who have found their place in science where they can ambitiously and unapologetically work on their projects.” Mazjin presented LUCID, an algorithm that generates a canonical set that reveals the model’s internal logic to expose potential unethical biases.
Mackaert advised women interested in STEM subjects to “follow study directions that are related to it and don’t be deterred by the fact that there are maybe more men in it or don’t be stopped by what others say. Dare to step out of your comfort zone, because only then you can really grow in life.”
Mackaert presented her work on Robot Planning and Control for Safe Human-Robot Coexistence, which aims to make robots efficient while guaranteeing their safety towards humans and objects in the workspace through the use of planning and control algorithms.
The Future of Tech is Female (FoTiF) Club is a BeCentral-led organisation which aims to encourage more women in tech. The week-long celebration opened doors for women to discover different fields where they are still underrepresented, and to ultimately make it as engaging and accessible as possible.