© BMZ / Shehzil Malik

    Digital philosopher Lorena Jaume-Palasí analyses the relationship between humans and technology. She was appointed to the Council of the Wise on Artificial Intelligence and Data Policy by the Spanish government and was a member of the EU High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence. Yet she still has to battle for control of the microphone.

    The home, the marketplace, the forest: as a philosophy student exploring the law and the constitution, Lorena realised that concepts of the private and the public were grounded in geography. As digitalisation continues to dissolve these boundaries, the Spanish-born and German-based philosopher and political scientist has made it her mission to analyse this digital shift, challenging assumptions rather than pushing the tech hype. “We are making a huge mistake by focusing too much on the technology in this debate. It obscures the actual issue at hand: how human beings deal with technology.”

    Lorena co-founded AlgorithmWatch at the end of 2015 and The Ethical Tech Society non-governmental organisation in 2018. The think tank analyses how our interests and prejudices impact the development of algorithms. Algorithms influence whether someone is granted a loan, a discount, or even whether a prisoner is let out on probation. They run in the background though, so it can be hard to determine exactly how they work. In the run-up to the 2017 German elections, AlgorithmWatch developed a browser add-on to increase the transparency of these processes. It allows the user to track their Google search results and pass them on to AlgorithmWatch, who then study how personalised content plays out. In addition to exploring the ethical implications and gaps in technology, The Ethical Tech Society also plans to develop algorithms for the common good.

    “We have to let go of the idea that every member of society has to understand code. After all, not everyone has to know the chemical formula for yogurt or how a motor works.” But citizens do need to be aware of the impact the algorithms collecting and evaluating their data can have. And automation has to be subject to ethical and legal regulations – a framework Lorena wants to help design.

    In 2017, the Spanish government appointed Lorena Jaume-Palasí to the Council of the Wise on Artificial Intelligence and Data Policy and she advises governments and institutions. Yet she still finds herself fighting to be heard at German and international conferences. “When a woman explains something, people don’t register it until a man has said the exact same thing.” So she employs strategies like the 20-minute rule, letting all the alpha males speak until they are ready to listen. She finds it very frustrating that so many of the women doing excellent work in the tech industry are not moving up. “Women remain ghost writers.” At podium discussions, male speakers will often rip the microphone right out of her hand. These days she counters with an acerbic comment before taking the moderator’s mic.

    “If It feels unfair, it probably is unfair – so make sure you stand up for yourself.”

    This article has originally been published as part of the publication "Women in Tech: Inspiration, no fairytales" by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). You can download the publication or order a print edition of the book on the #eSkills4Girls website

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