Digital education is fundamental, too often mentioned and preached, but still little applied. Our guest, Raffaella Aghemo, is one of the best-known blockchain and tech lawyers in Italy. Read about her experience!
The importance diversity in AI world, in particular among AI artists, has become a powerful instrument for the re-empowering of feminism. Our guest, Raffaella Aghemo, is a tech lawyer based in Rome (Italy). She is highly regarded for her extensive experience in AI, smart contracts, cryptocurrency matters, including privacy and intellectual property. Silvia Fabbi, from WAI Italy, hosted the interview and discussed topics like women’s contribution in AI in Italy with Raffaella.
Tell us about yourself: where did you grow up, where do you live today? Do you have children? Is it an (organisational) issue for you?
Good morning, and thank you for your question. I have always been a citizen of the Italian capital, I was born and live in Rome, I have no children. I cultivate a number of passions, including books and movies, and I am, I would say, a curious person by nature. In fact, I have always followed a multidisciplinary education, specializing in the field of communication and marketing, but practising law, and this has allowed me to become quite familiar with technology and the digital environment.
Tell us about legal tech: is it difficult as a woman to work and be an authority in the field?
I must admit, alas, yes. I have been working for many years and have always encountered a certain 'mistrust' of the female gender, at a professional level, especially in the field of technology. I have dealt with the delicate topic of the gender gap and the gender pay gap, in a recent publication, as Co-Author of a quality study promoted by Blockchain Ladies, IBNO and UNI Napoli entitled "Women and the Blockchain Industry Survey on Professional Careers and Female Employment in Italy and Europe."
You are an advisor of MIUR: how would you frame the challenge of involving more women in STEM? What strategies would you suggest? How do you see Italy in 10 years with respect to this point?
I firmly believe in digital education, which is too often mentioned and preached, but still little applied. I believe that today's society, especially in Italy, is experiencing a deep malaise due to the fact that technologies are carried and known by one part of the population, but absolutely misunderstood by all the others. This gap does not incentivize either the pursuit of education in these fields, on the part of young people, or the development and implementation of new businesses at market level. If we do not 'educate' ourselves in technology, we risk becoming lagging behind other countries, when in fact we have an enviable wealth of minds and culture.
How did your journey in STEM begin? What brought you to the field of ML/AI?
As I said, I have always had a passion for technology, and to this I have always combined a very strong determination, and a willpower and tenacity to study a lot, even self-taught, which, by the way, I recommend to everyone. Never stop on the threshold of the known, step out of your comfort zone. The field of AI got me involved because of its many dynamics and especially because of its close connection with ethics and philosophy.
You live and work in Italy: what is Italy like from the point of view of "modernity"? Is it an enabling environment, or would it be better elsewhere?
I think I have already answered you before, I believe there is a lot of work to be done otherwise we risk missing an important step towards progress, and I wish for more collaborative spirit, as all too often all knowledge is kept to oneself, to avoid competition, I instead love to share every extra notion I learn, because only in an equal exchange is there true growth.
There are many organisations which try to involve more and more women in AI (Pop AI, AIxIA, Women in Tech, Women in Voice, Women in Data Science, WAI…), to render AI and data science more “pop”, spreading awareness and knowledge: do we all lack coordination? (I like to think at this epoch like the Italian 70s, when the first “free radios” spread and in the following decades the system reorganised itself in a “structured ecosystem”. Do you think it’s going to happen the same with all those organisations which promote AI and ML?
Yes, don't hold it against me, but I think there is a lack of real coordination. I want to think that we are at an early stage and meanwhile it is more important to network, proselytize and involve as many people as possible. I hope that the reorganisation into a single ecosystem is not so far away.
What do you think are the reasons why few women are interested in AI-related professions? What can institutions and politics make to improve equity and diversity in this field?
Honestly, I do not believe that there are few women interested in professions related to the field of Artificial Intelligence. Instead, I believe that there is a need, on the part of the institutions, but not only, also on the part of large industries, for a greater and, above all, better commitment in this direction, through a greater 'openness' to competence and meritocracy, regardless of gender and age.
What does diversity in the AI and Data Science world mean to you?
Diversity for me is a concept that goes beyond proclamations or battles of sexes. For me it has to do with competence, with the ability to listen, with merit, with research and study, all qualities that must be noticed, in everyone, beyond externalities and first impressions. Otherwise we risk implementing those same 'cognitive biases' that we are so desperately trying to eliminate from algorithmic systems.
In what ways do you think technology has served women today? Where, on the other hand, has the technology been fallacious to women?
I think technology is always a step forward, for progress, and I don't think it can be the only 'ambassador' of advantages and disadvantages for women today. I believe that technology has had the merit of 'opening up the world', of giving so much knowledge, or rather so much access to knowledge, especially to women, who as we know in the past, were excluded from it.
What are the success factors for women in the STEM field? What advice would you like to give?
A lot of commitment, enough chutzpah, self confidence and confidence in the future.
Thank you to Raffaella for her meaningful thoughts, and do not forget -
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