BELatina: Meet Susan Gonzales, the Latina Fighting To Make AI Accessible to All
By Yamily Habib, BELatina
Chances are, when we hear “artificial intelligence,” our brains immediately think of the Matrix, white labs, and robots that want to control the world. However, artificial intelligence (AI) is part of our daily lives, even if we don’t realize it.
It is precisely this ignorance of technological processes that, in one way or another, could be an obstacle to the development of many communities of color.
Let's start at the beginning
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence demonstrated by machines, or “intelligent agents,” that perceive their environment and perform actions that maximize their chances of achieving their goals. In other words, systems that operate in an automated manner.
Although it sounds like convoluted terminology, reading this article is already a product of AI, for example, as it arrives in Google’s feed thanks to an advanced web search. YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, Siri, Alexa… artificial intelligence is intrinsically linked to our day-to-day lives.
But for communities of color, artificial intelligence is also linked to job security.
Since its conception, the goal of artificial intelligence has been to get a machine to mimic cognitive functions associated with the human mind, such as learning and problem-solving.
According to a Brookings Institution study, the 20 most popular occupations among Latinos in the U.S. are concentrated in sectors such as agriculture, construction, hospitality, and housing, where the jobs are mostly manual, labor-intensive, and repetitive. These are all types of jobs that can be automated with AI.
The study assessed the “automation potential” of key jobs, examining how many tasks can be automated using current technology and analyzing the effect on different racial and ethnic groups.
Latinos have the highest potential for automation, with nearly 60% of all jobs to be affected (African Americans stand at 50%, Asians at nearly 40%, and Caucasians at approximately 25%).
While new jobs will certainly be created with the rise of AI, they will most likely require new digital-centric skills, skills that most Latinos either don’t have today or will take time to learn to offset the impact of AI.
Enter Susan Gonzales
Susan Gonzales is the CEO of AIandYou, a nonprofit whose mission is to engage and educate communities of color about AI and equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to take action.
“AIandYou works with leaders and organizations in tech, civil society, and others to connect communities with the resources they need to be future-ready,” Gonzales told BELatina.
“We provide free educational resources for people to understand AI in an approachable, easy-to-understand way. That includes the basics of AI technology, why it matters, how it’s being used in our everyday lives, and how our community can prepare for how AI will change our lives and careers.”
With more than 20 years of experience working in community engagement at Facebook, external affairs for Comcast, and a variety of strategic community relations roles, for Susan Gonzales, artificial intelligence today is a resource for reducing barriers to opportunity for all people.
“It’s something my parents instilled in me from an early age when I would attend LULAC meetings with my family. I got to witness how our Latinx community takes care of each other and supports the next generation of Latinx leaders,” Gonzales said.
“My parents instilled the importance of a college education and hard work. My dad, born in the U.S., was not allowed to go to school beyond 6th grade in Texas due to discrimination. He and my mother worked very hard to put their three children through parochial school to prepare us for college.”
The importance of risk-taking
Although risk-taking was not part of her parents’ history, Susan Gonzales knew she had to chart a new path as the first Latina in all of her corporate roles.
As she told BELatina, each of the incredible opportunities Gonzales has had over the past 15 years is a product of her ability to take risks.
“In each job, I proposed a new role and/or promotion, and each time the suggestion was accepted. I broke into Silicon Valley, convincing a top executive at Facebook that they needed my skills as a young technology company. After numerous interviews, I was hired for a six-month trial. I launched the company’s Community Engagement work and stayed five years.”
That’s how her work in the tech industry introduced her to artificial intelligence (AI).
“Our use of AI is already changing how we live, work, get medical care, apply for mortgages, and more, and it’s happening right now. My community and other marginalized communities are not prepared for the challenges or the opportunities that AI is bringing,” Gonzales explained.
AIandYou is born
It was clear to Gonzales that the tech industry does not reflect the diversity and inclusion seen in the United States. Often, she was the only woman of color and/or the only Latina at the table. Inspired by pioneers like Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her parents’ experience, Gonzales decided to open the doors for the next generation.
“Working in the tech and telecom industries were the most rewarding years in my career and the most difficult,” she remembers. “I frequently wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. I had to stay to pull others up. I had to stay to pull others up and to create opportunities for our communities. I was truly fortunate that my employers fully supported my work, and we were successful in creating long-term opportunities.”
Hence, AI was a way to create a more accessible world and empower people with disabilities, even if there were still many flaws to be corrected.
“It’s been well-publicized that AI has primarily been designed and taught by young white men due to the lack of diversity in the tech industry,” Gonzales explained, “Their experience of the world is just one perspective, and the data and algorithms we use to create AI are often biased. The bias bears out in the final products: we see the discrimination AI can cause when it stops people of color from getting a loan, being denied housing, not being considered for a job, and even how it can be misused by law enforcement.”
She cites World Economic Forum figures on the displacement of 75 million jobs by 2022 due to AI and automation. But she also claims that AI will also create 133 million jobs during the same period.
The goal, then, is to enable access to these new technologies.
With AIandYou, Gonzales and her team provide free educational resources to understand AI in an accessible and easy-to-understand way. This includes the basics of AI technology, why it is important, how it is used in our everyday lives, and how our community can prepare for how AI will change our lives and careers.
“I built AIandYou specifically to demystify AI for our community and other marginalized communities, who are often excluded from the conversations around technology and AI,” she explains. “We need to be educated about how these technologies will affect us and how we can advocate for ourselves. We cannot afford to be left behind with new technologies again.”
“This is an inflection point for us. The pandemic demonstrated that the health, digital, and socioeconomic divide is growing for communities of color, and AI has the potential to widen the gap or close it,” she concludes. “Right now, we have the choice between being left behind or organizing to be leaders in the conversation around AI and take advantage of the benefits it offers.”
“We need to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly about AI. Now is the time to be educated about AI. We have no time to waste.”