Klaus vom Hofe

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Do we need a techie prize for women?

Anastasia Zhukova developed an AI application that scans media reports for bias, to help expose manipulative intent. For her thesis she has won the top prize in the Women's STEM Award 2019 competition. The award got me wondering.

A coveted prize and only for women: A glass trophy and 3,000 euros for the best STEM thesis.

A coveted prize and only for women: A glass trophy and 3,000 euros for the best STEM thesis. The abbreviation stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.

Hats off and congratulations to Anastasia Zhukova! In her master's degree thesis, Zhukova, a graduate of University of Konstanz, focused on whether machines could be enabled to identify media bias and factual distortion. Such identification is normally a task for informed human experts. And she developed an artificial-intelligence (AI)-based tool that automatically identifies media bias. 

Overall winner Anastasia Zhukova.

Overall winner Anastasia Zhukova.

Her accomplishment is all the more impressive in that it applies technology to a good cause. It is truly deserving of an award. “Information influences the way we think and make decisions, and in recent years we have also seen how important the effect of biased news can be," the laudation noted. “For this reason we think this work is an important contribution both in the social and the AI fields.”

Bias also in this blog post

What I'm wondering is whether, to honor an accomplishment like that, we need a techie award just for women.

To try to answer this question, I've been pondering some past situations in my own career. In my mind's eye, I see contract signings and other types of ceremonies, IT and technology events, community meetings such as those of the "Smart Home Fans," and various types of management events. Everywhere I look, I see the same thing – at least in our industry. Women are underrepresented. At many events, you don't see any at all. If you follow @UndwievieleFrauen (@AndhowmanyWomen) on Twitter, you get the idea. 

I've started looking in the mirror on this one. In my writing, I try to avoid language that seems to refer only to males. I don't (yet) have any AI apps to help me on this; I only have my colleagues. One of them, a woman, has a particularly sharp eye. She overlooked two instances of bias in this text, however. One was "hats off" – an old expression based on male-only imagery. The other came in my sentence wondering whether we need a techie award just for women. In my original German, I used the word "man," meaning "one," as in "does one need ..." [translator's note: "man" in this sense is an everyday word.] 

Monocultures – no, thanks

Admittedly, such usages are little things that no one notices. But they add up, and then they can do plenty of damage. They lock our attention on a male world. We keep that focus in many different areas, perspectives and everyday situations – and in the results of our work. The area of product and software development provides a good example. Claudia Nemat, Member of the Deutsche Telekom Board of Management and head of the Board area Technology and Innovation, has repeatedly emphasized how important it is for our teams to be gender-mixed. "Different perspectives emerge in teams made up of people who are different from one another – they don't emerge in monocultures," she noted in one blog post to our intranet: "Different perspectives arise in teams with different people - and not in monocultures. Such teams are more exhausting to lead but come to better results. A good example is my leadership team - here are men and women, people from Germany, South Korea, America and Africa, alongside Techies, two mathematicians, a physicist and a psychologist, and a business economist, extroverted and introverted people."

To answer the question I opened with: Yes, we do need such an award – a women's STEM award , for example. That's because such an award can inspire more women to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. What's more, we don't have a "Scully effect" everywhere. That term refers to a certain phenomenon, seen in English-speaking countries, in which broadcasts of the TV series "The X-Files" were seen to boost the numbers of women entering STEM fields. The name "Scully effect " refers to the series' main character, Dana Scully, an FBI agent and medical scientist who solves difficult cases. As this teaches us, we need good role models – such as famous women who have succeeded in professions traditionally dominated by men. In short, it's good that we have a women's STEM Award, along with other related initiatives, because it adds to the role models receiving attention. Such as Anastasia Zhukova and all the other winners.

About Deutsche Telekom's Women's STEM AwardDeutsche Telekom, the student magazine "audimax" and the "MINT Zukunft schaffen" ("creating a STEM future") initiative have been awarding the Women's STEM Award since 2014. It is open to female STEM graduates from around the world. Entrants submit theses on topics in strategic growth areas. The focus topics for 2019 are Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Cyber Security and Networks of the Future. A 3,000-euro prize was awarded for the best thesis overall, and additional 500-euro prizes were awarded to theses in each growth field. More information can be found here.

Winners of Women’s STEM Award 2019

Overall winner Artificial Intelligence: Anastasia Zhukova

Master thesis Uni Konstanz: Automated Identification of Framing by Word Choice and Labeling to Reveal Media Bias in News Articles.

Cyber Security: Jeannine Born

Bachelor thesis TU Dresden: An analysis of live migration strategies for live network deception of highly-interactive adversaries.

Artificial Intelligence: Theresa Tran

Master thesis TU Darmstadt: A Game Theoretical Approach to Explainable Machine Learning.

Networks of the future: Katja Ludwig

Master thesis Uni Augsburg/ TU München: Efficient Online Topology-Aware Network Slice Embedding for 5G Mobile Networks.

Internet of things: Lotte Steenbrink

Master thesis TU Hamburg: Improving Reliability in Wireless Sensor Networks through Interference-Adaptive TSCH Cell Assignment.

Cloud: Ramona Kühn

Master thesis Uni Passau: Predictive Cloud Compliance.

On topic
Code of Conduct
Six theses on innovation