2nd Annual Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference

Monday marked the 2nd Annual Women in Data Science (WiDS) conference in Ottawa, Ontario, and three IMI innovators were in attendance. Though the weather outside was chilly, the conversation inside was heating up as some of the sharpest minds in data science convened inside the conference centre at the beautiful Brookstreet Hotel.

 The day started off with a rousing look at innovating when innovation isn’t welcome, as Dr. Maura Grossman of the University of Waterloo discussed her experiences and challenges in electronic law document searching using artificial intelligence. When the law industry wasn’t ready to adapt to the improvements that the technology could bring, she had to overcome politics and pushback as her research efforts made the journey to eventual adoption.

We then heard of the ways in which data science is helping make advances in the healthcare field, with applications in improving cancer patient outcomes, decreasing maternal mortality rates in developing countries, helping prevent and manage concussions in sport, monitoring neonatal patients using computer vision instead of physically intrusive sensors and much more.

Over lunch, conference-goers mingled with others in academia, government, industry and startup roles, developing a fresh perspective on the data science work going on in all facets of society. When our stomachs were as full as our minds, it was time to dive back into an afternoon of compelling speakers.

The discussion turned to the ethics and laws surrounding burgeoning AI initiatives, and the challenges that come with working in a field that is developing so fast that policy makers can’t keep up. It was pointed out that many of the younger minds in the audience would soon be contributing to building and regulating AI-driven technologies as their careers in data science blossomed. In such a fast-paced industry, it is exciting to contemplate the large impact that each person in the field can make in shaping the future of data science and computing.

Since the conference was aimed towards women in data science, Sarah Tatsis of Blackberry shared her ideas on how to increase female participation in STEM careers from a young age. Partnerships with the Girl Guides of Canada as well as local elementary and high schools are helping to bring computer science to young girls and decrease the stigma that working with math and computers is ‘just for the boys’. Listeners were encouraged to empower young women in these fields and to take on the position of role model for younger data scientists who would follow in their footsteps.

 The final hours of the conference were filled with fascinating talks about the future of data science and how it is here to stay. For example, as the Internet of Things (IoT) grows due to the skyrocketing number of connected devices in existence, artificial intelligence will be critical in defending against cybersecurity threats to companies and even governments. Without enough time for a human to get involved, AI systems will be responsible for recognizing, managing and eliminating attacks as they get more frequent and more elaborate.

When the conference concluded, guests were left with new insights into how data science is being applied in novel ways that range from making people’s lives more convenient to even saving them. Innovation in the fields of artificial intelligence and data science is at an all-time high, and the possibilities are endless. The speakers at Monday’s Women in Data Science conference painted an inspiring vision of what the future AI can look like if we all build towards it.

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