By Twain Liu (Founder, Senseus) The global financial crisis is causing $100+ trillion of effects to our households, communities and economies, and its root causes go beyond the behaviors of a few dozen bankers and the responses of regulators and politicians.
The system’s failings are actually also in the code and mathematical models underpinning the technologies that are supposed to support intelligent decision-making but which are sub-optimally smart because their Y logic is missing female X factor.
Since 2008, there have been calls to increase the diversity of boards given that female fund managers excel and produce exceptional ROI and there's a vision that women can help sanity check the types of corporate policies and processes that foster behavior and cultures in which employees can “bet the bank” and end up bringing the global financial system to its knees.
Amidst the autopsy of the system’s cardiac arrest, bailouts and proposed banking reforms, the politicians and market commentators haven’t yet explored what can be done to make technologies more intelligent and how women can contribute our innovations in tandem with male technologists and create smarter futures for us all.
We’re going to explore those opportunities here.
As 2012 augurs in New Year’s resolutions, I encourage women everywhere - whatever your age, whatever your profession, whatever your technical know how - to enroll onto a coding course, sign up to a Developer Program (be it Apple’s, Google’s or other), pair-code with male developers, release your technologies and contribute to the intelligence of systems (be it the Web or the global economy).
It doesn’t matter if you didn’t study Computer Science, have never coded before or if it’s been years since you opened up an Integrated Development Environment (XCode, Eclipse, MS Visual Studio or other). It doesn’t even matter if you have to borrow someone else’s computer to hack and develop on.
All that matters is that we women have brains wired for learning, are capable of adapting to challenges and natural, super-dextrous creativity that enables us to add our two cents to code.
After all, women weaved the Bayeux tapestry so we’re more than capable of weaving the Web! Moreover, there are a whole bunch of social tools out there to help us code nowadays!
Technology needs us. It needs us because without our DNA (our X factor), the Web and financial systems will continue to be only half as complete, half as coherent and half as smart as they could be.
This is because although current algorithms are good at processing content in a logical and male way (quantifying and correlating relationships, products and places that we might be interested in, recommending them to us and supporting our decision making), they don’t do a good job at understanding and connecting content in an intuitive and female way (qualifying and contextualizing relationships, products and places so that we make more informed decisions).
This ability gap in algorithms presents opportunities for female developers to work in synch with male colleagues, particularly in the eCommerce and data analytics markets. According to Goldman Sachs, global eCommerce is projected to grow to $1 trillion in 2013. Meanwhile, the global business intelligence market will be $12.4 billion by 2015. For both sectors, data is the content that helps us to decide what to buy online, when we buy it and where we can source it. Data is also what runs in the global financial systems, measures our consumption propensities and behaviors, provides indications of whether bankers should buy or sell, and either produces profits or crisis. Whether it’s the former or the latter depends on the systems’ ability to contextualise data. If systems can only logically correlate but can’t intuitively contextualise then they’re insufficiently smart. Equally, if they can only be intuitive but not logical, their decision making ability is also sub-optimal; only when logic and intuition are in synch can content and its context be analysed to help us make informed choices. Luckily for global society, contextualization is a natural ability in the female brain and the code we create can enable and transform context.
The truth is that if the algorithms only inherit and benefit from male intelligence, it doesn’t matter how quickly and efficiently the Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Neural Networks systems process. They’re all still missing female X code that would make them more conscious of options, more effective in interpreting those options, more accurate in understanding their affects and simply make the machines smarter.
It’s worth knowing that IBM Watson, arguably one of the most intelligent and fastest processing systems in the world, was said to be “like a human autistic savant” by its male inventor. If women had contributed 50:50 to its build, it’s not just faster processing of huge volumes of data that IBM Watson would have achieved. It would also be able to express, identify and parse sentiments in that data that would help it make sense of inputs and the “Who, what, when, where, why and how” of information in more dynamic and relevant ways.
After all, that’s how the female brain thinks and connects naturally. Emotions, making sense of information and relative associations are special skills and strengths of women. Combined with the male special skills and strengths of logic, spatial reasoning and prioritisation ranking we could reach remarkable tech frontiers for our species.
Notably, when we trace back through innovation history we remember that women made key code contributions towards our quantum leaps in technology. Ada Lovelace’s partnership with Charles Babbage in the 1840s led to the invention of the world’s first computer, the Difference Engine. Adele Goldberg’s collaboration with Alan Kay in the 1970s produced a programming language, smalltalk-80, which evolved into Objective-C. This language is what now runs 180+ million of Apple's products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad; innovations that contribute to Apple's bottom line success and make it the world's #1 most valued brand. Meanwhile, Dame Wendy Hall’s contributions to the original WWW as well as its latest semantic forms, alongside Tim Berners-Lee and others, is what enables technologies to be increasingly intelligent, open and democratic for global society.
The opportunity is here for women, in this Olympic year of 2012, to rise up to the challenges of code and contribute our X factor so that global society can make quantum leaps in innovation again.
Here are some good resources to start coding adventures with:
- Learn to code | Codeacademy
- Free Stanford University computer science classes
- O'Reilly School of Technology
- About Creating Your First iOS App
- Android Developers
- Ladies Learning Code
So go ahead! Sign up to a coding class today and let’s combine our female know how with men's, to create smarter futures for everyone.
As for me, I’m coding my vision of serendipitous recommendations that reflect who we really are: the whole diversity of us (head, heart and soul) rather than the boxes we’ve been put in before. I believe we’re more than logic, binary choices (hot or not), how many times we click a “like” or +1 button and other quantitative metrics. I believe we’re magic, sparking with senses, dynamism and fun, and that’s what my mobile technologies set out to reflect.
Yes, X factor to complement Y logic and realise innovation.
Editor's note: Got a question or answer for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Twain Liu is Founder of Senseus, a mobile technologies company that produces consumer applications for product-place recommendations and market surveys. Her experiences include technology development, strategic investments and corporate strategy, CEO-Chairman’s Office, Tier 1 bank; and taste product alchemy, IFF. She is a maths graduate, codes and is multi-lingual. She can be contacted here: twain [@] twainit.com