Innovation: Shaking up the status-quo in AI
Global Challenge: Social & Cultural Innovation
Katrina Ingram, Founder, Ethically Aligned AI, is a passionate Edmonton innovator, who’s focused her diverse skillset and background towards helping companies build ethical AI systems, and deploy better technologies for society.
Combining her love for the arts, education, media, and technology, Katrina is shaking up the world of AI, and trailblazing the way as a BIPOC female innovator. She shares her entrepreneurial journey and how she’s helping businesses operate more responsibly, and why representation in the tech and innovation is so important. One of her most recent accomplishments includes being named in the top 100 Women in AI Ethics list for 2022.
When did your drive for entrepreneurship start?
In hindsight, I've always had a sense that I would start a business someday, but it took a very long time to act on that idea. I'm married to an entrepreneur, so I've seen both the rewards and the challenges in running a business. Also, for many years, I felt that someone in our family needed a regular paycheck and health benefits plan! However, after returning to school mid-life to reinvent my career, I was really inspired to continue my work on the problem of AI ethics. This is an emerging area and it seemed like the right time to take the step towards entrepreneurship and turn this idea into a business.
Why did you start Ethically Aligned AI?
I'm a communicator and educator at heart. That's a thread that ties together my very diverse career path which includes the technology sector, public broadcasting, post-secondary education, the arts and even a brief stint in the cannabis industry. My work has always involved helping others to understand something. I've also been informed by alternative, non-mainstream paths, and a strong sense of social justice. I'm about supporting the underdog and shaking up the status quo! All of that seems perfectly aligned with the work I'm doing now in the space of AI ethics.
Ethical issues in AI range from privacy and consent, biased datasets and models that create discriminatory outcomes, to bigger questions like how AI will impact jobs, human relationships and the way society operates. As companies rush to build AI enabled solutions, how can they ensure that they are making responsible choices? How will they ensure that what they are building is safe and trustworthy? I'm passionate about helping organizations understand and navigate these issues to build and deploy better technology.
How are you innovating with Ethically Aligned AI? Tell us about your upcoming projects.
There are a number of projects we are excited about sharing:
- We've launched an AI Ethics Certification program with PowerED by Athabasca University. The certification consists of four courses that will provide a foundation for anyone building or deploying AI-enabled technologies to understand and address ethical issues in AI. These are asynchronous, online courses and the first one launched in November.
- We've partnered with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) to develop a video series aimed at educating youth (Grades 10-12) about tech ethics. The CCLA will be using this series as part of their educational curriculum. We welcome requests from teachers, schools or school boards who wish to use this curriculum, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
- We have a FREE Ethics Toolkit available on our website. The toolkit provides a curated overview of 10 tools aimed at helping AI developers tackle ethical issues at various stages in the development process.
- I'm hosting the AI4Society Dialogues podcast and season two launched mid-October. The podcast showcases researchers from the University of Alberta.
- We piloted an AI reflections journal with CIFAR this summer and have plans to roll that out to more audiences in 2022.
- We have two very early stage prototype products in development. While both are far from being "market ready" we are moving these forward in the coming months.
- We spoke at a wide range of organizations this past year and hosted a number of workshops about AI ethics. Our blog and Youtube channel features some of those talks.
How did you become involved with Startup Edmonton? How did it help your business?
I've known about Startup Edmonton for a while, but I wasn't really connected to the community until last year. I was just about to finish a master's degree at the University of Alberta, and thinking about turning my research on applied ethics for AI into a business. I attended Startup Week in October 2020 and went to a great session about the business model canvas, which led to taking Preflight. The opportunity to clarify my thinking and to learn with a cohort of others starting their business was so helpful. The journey of entrepreneurship can feel lonely at times, so having community is really important. I also benefited greatly from one-on-one calls to seek support or discuss business challenges. It is really phenomenal to have access to the depth and breadth of resources provided by Startup Edmonton.
As a BIPOC female founder, what does representation mean to you and why is it so important in the tech and innovation space?
It is SO important to see yourself reflected in society. Representation helps us to think about what is possible for us, and conversely, what doesn't seem possible. I remember growing up and not having dolls that looked like me, not seeing families on TV that looked like mine. I can count on one hand how many BIPOC female professors I've had over the course of completing two degrees. Despite a 20+ year career in industry, I've never had a BIPOC female boss. Why is that?
We really need to question who is afforded the opportunity to be in positions of power and influence. The technology and innovation space is a place where we are literally building the future. It's more important than ever that we have BIPOC female representation in this space because we need a future that is inclusive and equitable. We're seeing harmful issues arise with current technologies, which have been built largely by white, CIS gendered men of a certain social class. We know now that these technologies do not afford the same access for everyone and, in fact, can actively work against some groups of people. We need to change that. Representation is part of making those important changes.
What inspires you?
I'm inspired by people who have the courage to stand up to injustices, to live their values and to make positive change. This can be in small ways - like challenging someone who makes a racist or sexist comment - or it can be in larger ways - like starting a business or not for profit organization. I'm also inspired by anyone who uplifts and supports other people in their quest to make positive change in this world.
Share one resource that you think could provide great advice for someone thinking about starting their entrepreneurial journey.
While I was in grad school and still thinking about the idea of entrepreneurship, I met two women in my program who were already entrepreneurs. Carina Ludgate runs a branding company called Henryk Branding and Aretha Greatrix runs companies in the film industry. The three of us had a great conversation on my podcast about embracing both the upside and challenges that come with entrepreneurial life. I often reflect back on their advice, and I think others will find it helpful too.
Why is Edmonton the best place for your innovation to thrive?
Edmonton is a city of possibilities. You are literally 2-3 connection points away from meeting anyone you want to in this city. I'm from Vancouver originally and that level of connection just doesn't happen there. Also, people are genuinely nice and helpful here. There is a spirit of caring and celebrating other people's wins as if it were our own. When we see that an Edmonton based company has raised a round of funding or landed a significant contract, I think we all go "YES"! - it's a win for us all. That collective spirit bodes well for a tech ethics company like mine.