Celebrating the Women of Sony AI: Sharing Insights, Inspiration, and Advice

Life at Sony AI

March 29, 2024

In March, the world commemorates the accomplishments of women throughout history and celebrates those of today. The United States observes March as Women’s History Month, while many countries around the globe observe International Women's Week – which typically falls in the first week of the month and culminates with International Women’s Day on March 8.

These holidays present a wonderful opportunity for women to inspire one another, encouraging each other to pursue their dreams and unlock their full potential – especially critical today in the area of artificial intelligence, where women still face barriers and only represent 22% of the positions in the workforce worldwide.

At Sony AI, we believe that diversity in gender, cultural, societal, and educational background is a critical aspect of the AI research and development process. This is particularly important as research has shown that AI reflects the biases of its creators. Our lead research scientist for AI ethics, Alice Xiang, recently asserted in an essay published in Daedalus that “AI reflects patterns in our society, just and unjust, and the worldviews of its human creators, fair or biased.” That’s why we place great emphasis on building teams composed of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds.

All of our teams – from those working on the breakthrough autonomous AI agent, Gran Turismo Sophy (“GT Sophy”), to AI ethics – feature strong women in the roles of AI, machine learning and software engineers, research scientists, project managers and more. Each woman contributes significant work that propels projects and our overall mission forward.

This month, we would like to highlight the voices of these women by sharing their views on the progress women have made in AI today, what inspired them to join the field, and advice for other women looking to pursue careers in AI.

Progress Is Being Made

It has been well documented that women in AI – and the technology industry overall – have historically faced barriers such as lack of representation, the perpetuation of gender and cultural stereotypes, and more. However, the women of Sony AI have seen progress across the industry in recent years and they remain hopeful.

Lingjuan Lyu, Head of Privacy-Preserving Machine Learning (PPML), offered a historical view of how the presence of women in AI has shifted over the past five to 10 years. She stated, “There has been a noticeable advancement in gender equity within the technology sector, which is indeed heartening. This progress is evident in several key areas, including an increase in the number of women researchers and engineers employed by technology companies, equitable opportunities for promotion, and the significant impact of women who perform at or above the level of their male counterparts. These developments, collectively, signify a positive shift towards improved gender equity in the technology field. However, it is important to acknowledge that despite these advances, achieving true equity remains an ongoing challenge.”

Mireille El Gheche, a senior research scientist specializing in reinforcement learning for robotics, echoed similar thoughts, sharing, “There's been a notable increase in awareness, with more companies actively promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives. We're seeing greater representation of women in tech, more opportunities for mentorship and networking, and a growing recognition of the value of diverse perspectives in driving innovation. While there's still progress to be made, the positive momentum is undeniable, and I'm optimistic about the continued evolution towards a more equitable and inclusive tech industry.”

“Like my colleagues have shared, there is still a long way to go but there have been improvements. One example of where advancements have been seen is industry conferences, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration. I have participated in the event for three years in a row, and the number of female participants has been growing by a large margin,” shared research scientist Yunshu Du, who has been working on GT Sophy. “At Sony AI, we also make a great effort in hiring more women. The number of female research scientists and engineers in my group has almost tripled since I joined three years ago.”

Chrysa Iliopoulou, an MLOps engineer who focuses on the operational aspects of machine learning projects, also commented on Sony AI’s diversity. “I am glad to work at Sony AI because here there is diversity and inclusivity for women and individuals coming from various backgrounds.”

With progress being made in AI, it is important to showcase the power of inspiration in empowering women.

Inspiration Is Everywhere

The women of Sony AI drew their personal inspiration from individuals and experiences – each of which played a significant role in shaping their personal journeys towards success. For Lingjuan and Andreanne Lemay, an AI engineer supporting Sony AI’s Game AI research, their families sparked a passion and interest in technology.

Lingjuan reminisced that many of her family members were technology enthusiasts, which served as the cornerstone of her journey into technology. “They consistently endeavored to nurture my development and provided me with the best support to excel as a scientist, aiming to contribute meaningfully to the community.”

Andreanne found inspiration from her father, sharing, “He was an engineer and has always been fascinated by science and technology – so much so that he retired to start a full-time bachelor’s degree in physics. Yes, just for fun. He transmitted this passion to me, which ultimately led to my undergraduate studies in biomedical engineering and then my subsequent interest in AI during my time at Polytechnique Montréal.”

For Wiebke Hutiri, a research scientist who focuses on AI ethics, she has always envisioned herself as a creator, builder, and designer. She admires how technology – such as cars, washing machines, video calls, and digital maps – enhances her life. However, Wiebke's experiences in her home country have provided her with a profound perspective on the genuine potential of technology and its influence on the lives of others.

“Growing up in South Africa gave me firsthand experience that technology needs to be designed with inclusion and accessibility in mind, if it is to serve the beautiful diversity of all the people on the planet. This is what ultimately attracted me into the technology field, a desire to increase the voices that shape the design of technology systems.”

Like Wiebke, many other women on the Sony AI team had an innate interest in technology growing up.

Lison Abecassis, a software engineer specializing in robotics, remarked that her interest in technology developed early in her life with a little help from a friend and also, Sony. “I have always enjoyed building things as a kid, with wires, mechanical parts and small motors. So, when a friend of mine in primary school mentioned that they wanted to become a roboticist, I thought that it was a great idea. And, since then, my feelings haven’t changed. I also remember looking up Sony's robot dog, Aibo, online as a kid, and wishing I could get one.”

AI engineer Kana Maruyama, who supports the development of AI for a number of projects, highlighted her unwavering enchantment with technology, commenting, “It constantly births unprecedented experiences and lifestyles. The ever-evolving landscape of innovation ensures a perpetually exhilarating journey, where each moment brings forth something entirely new and captivating.”

Yunshu said her interest in technology came a bit later in life during college. She shared, “I was not a very technical person until college when I took an Intro to Programming class. I remember my first piece of homework was a calendar look-up script that displays the day of a week on any given date. I was fascinated by the logic behind what seemed to be a very simple daily tool we use. This experience served as an impetus for my interest in computer science. By the time I entered grad school, the deep learning field started to bloom and that sparked my curiosity about how AI systems work behind the scenes.”

The interest in AI for both Mireille and Chrysa was fueled by their ongoing exploration of the field and its complexities, coupled with their skill development as they progressed in their careers.

“Since AI began emerging as a growing field, it has always piqued my interest. I thought that the field was still so new and challenging, leaving plenty of things to be discovered,” noted Chrysa. “Having completed my Master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering, working as a Full Stack engineer, and then pursuing another Master’s in Data Science and Machine Learning, I could always envision the challenges and that inspired me to find the solutions to address them.”

“I have a background in machine learning, which is a form of AI that allows computer systems to consistently improve their performance in certain tasks. This field offers exciting and challenging work in a variety of applications,” added Mireille. “I do enjoy math and I am passionate about finding practical applications for complex equations and theories. Working in machine learning has provided me the chance to use Calculus, probability, and statistics in my daily work.”

It's evident that inspiration for women in AI can be found in a variety of places. That's why the women of Sony AI are committed to inspiring others to explore their interest in AI or other technology fields.

Navigating the Field of AI Is Possible

As highlighted by several women at Sony AI, progress is being made for women in the AI industry. And, as that continues, the team is eager to share advice or words of encouragement with women who aspire to enter the field.

“Cultivate interest and confidence as foundational elements prior to embarking on a career in the technology industry. These two critical factors play a significant role in determining the extent of your professional advancement within the field,” Lingjuan asserted.

“The biggest piece of advice I would give is to always trust your instincts and believe in your strength,” stated Chrysa. “I also give the advice I would have liked someone to give me when I first started working in the field – no woman should let anyone undermine their worth or undervalue their contributions. They need to be confident and assertive.”

Yunshu wanted to remind women that they, too, are meant to work in AI, sharing, “Don't be a victim of imposter syndrome, you belong.”

Andreanne offered similar sentiments and encouraged women to use their voices. “Be confident in your abilities even when you feel like the impostor symptom is going strong. Find a supportive environment where your ideas and potential will not be exploited and speak up about people, groups, or organizations that are not making you feel comfortable or heard.”

Kana explained that since the fields of technology and AI are ever-evolving, it is essential for women to stay updated on new advancements and possess the ability to adapt to the changes they may bring. She also wanted to remind women that while they may experience transition periods for raising children or when things simply don’t go as planned, sharing, “With support from those around you and the utilization of telecommuting, it's entirely possible to continue working almost seamlessly.”

When it comes to new roles in AI, Lison encourages applicants to “apply, even if you don’t meet all criteria on the job description.”

Wiebke and Mireille seek to empower women to take action and remember how much talent and power they have.

“Don’t overthink it. Just do it. If you don’t like it, you can always change your mind later. Life is the cumulation of your choices, not a single choice,” shared Wiebke.

Mireille added, “If you're a woman interested in tech, know that your voice and contributions are valuable and needed. Don't be afraid to pursue your passion and make your mark in this exciting field!”

To learn more about Sony AI’s culture as well as our current job opportunities, visit: https://ai.sony/joinus/.

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