Women in the AI industry

Interview with Dr Tina Klüwer

Dr Tina Klüwer, a computer linguist and AI researcher formed parlamind together with other partners in 2015. This start-up has developed a technology which is able to conduct human-like dialogues. As a result machines can enter into dialogue with customers and interested parties in a human-oriented manner. Dr Klüwer is a pioneer - for AI, and also because women are becoming harder to find in the technology sector.


Why are there so few women in AI in Germany?

I don’t think that there are few women explicitly in AI. I think that AI is in a similar position to IT in general. It’s different in other countries. For example in India there is also a much larger percentage of women in engineering teams. I can’t say what the position is in other European countries - I don’t have anything to compare that to.

There seem to be more difficulties in Germany in that regard. I believe that there is a wide variety of reasons for this and that it can’t all be put down to a single factor. I’m also not a gender expert, but of course it isn’t simply due to the fact that women can’t or don’t want to be involved.

Let me tell you about one personal experience which made a major impression on me: A couple of years ago I held a two-semester programming course in Perl at the University of Bonn for those studying communication sciences. The course wasn’t very technically oriented. The students also included a large number of young women. To put it in a nutshell - during these two semesters I didn’t just teach them Perl, but in particular I also tried to remove the students’ insecurities, not just among the female students, that they can’t do something. For two semesters I kept repeating, “You don’t need to be afraid of it! It’s just a machine. It’s going to do what you want”. In this regard I can perceive an invisible inner barrier which I can’t define in more precise terms. However there are a lot of really great initiatives to get girls to have fun in maths, IT, sciences and technology, such as Girls Day, or international projects such as Geek Girls Carrots, GirlsWhoCode, or Geekettes. I think that developments in this regard are very positive.


Do women approach the subject of AI differently?

I don’t think so. I don’t think that there is any difference in how women and men perceive AI and how they deal with AI - neither privately nor in a professional context. Our team at parlamind includes both male and female developers for AI implementation. This diversity is really great and has a lot of positive effects, but there is no difference in how they approach the task in hand.


What do you recommend to young people who are interested in AI or want do get involved in this sector?

There are really a lot of different aspects to AI. That is why everyone who wants to study IT, for example, should take a look in advance at how their specialist subject is structured. For example you can study computer linguistics, robotics, or machine learning. And if you like working with language, then working for a company that specialises in industrial robots and machine learning is probably not the right thing for you. I would also recommend: definitely doing an internship or two to have a look at all kinds of areas.


To what extent have you worked together with Deutsche Telekom in the past?

I have to admit that I have hardly been in touch with the Telekom parent group in the past. But of course I know the company’s innovation incubator - hub:raum. I think that’s great. The employees at hub:raum are really doing a great job by creating infrastructure and networks, supporting teams, and helping to characterise the start-up landscape - not just in Berlin. Now there are also a couple of AI teams involved.

We have always received support from hub:raum, not financially, but with their knowledge, network, and all kinds of things. This company always does its best to recognise the teams in Berlin that fit together and to also bring the right people together. If hub:raum no longer existed, this would leave behind a huge hole in the scene.

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