Leadership and diversity during change and disruption – a personal perspective

By Hilary CinisJuly 20th, 2018

There are moments when you realise leadership goes beyond being a buzzword, and becomes something that might catalyse your ability to do your work, to create change and to bring better outcomes to civilians and society.

Earlier this year I took part in the Monash Business School’s ‘Your Leadership Voice: women in focus’ course. It is a seven day program for female leaders, and it felt like a perfect fit for learning how leadership can enhance the work I’m already doing through learning new approaches to achieving my leadership goals.

I work in a field that’s both important and relevant to contemporary issues – one that involves exploring the ethical quandaries raised by the increased uptake of decision making systems and services augmented with artificial intelligence (AI). At CSIRO’s Data61 we have opportunities to be thought leaders in this field as well as creators of these powerful technologies.

There is nothing simple about the ethics of AI. Resolving ethical quandaries is extremely complex and no single ethical approach (eg utilitarian vs deontological) will suffice. If we consider the efforts to encode ethics in software as the “hardwiring” of ethical tech, we ought to balance that work with supporting activities that examine the human factors and relationships between people and digital. Let’s call it “softwiring”.

Softwiring would be shared mindset and cross-disciplinary work established during the later stages of applied research, when technologies are looking to move into early stage productisation. These diverse teams would focus on human-centred approaches and would share the load that’s currently carried by data scientist and software engineers.

Prior to the Monash Leadership course, I had started writing about the user experience (UX) response to ethical issues in AI, hoping it would reach a broad audience. At the same time I was uneasy about the voice my story needed or who would need to hear it for it to have true impact. I had been aiming it at my team and engineering colleagues, and hadn’t considered a message for executives and c-suite.

Though the course I discovered remarkable frameworks to assist with gathering support, influence and telling a powerful story as a leader. Applying these methods in action with a real life, personal goal revolutionised my understanding of what was critical in leadership: setting a goal and mobilising thought and action towards it. In my case, taking action in response to a range of new ethical questions around the use of AI requires individuals in powerful positions to create change at an organisational level. How can we identify the many roles needed in achieving that, and how can we deliver that message in a comprehensive way?

So rather than asking “what are we building?” or “for whom are be building it, and why?” the questions a leader would ask is “how do we collectively solve this challenge to ensure what is created not only meets market needs but also meets our moral, social and environmental values?”

This is where leadership ties closely with creating change, and bringing better outcomes to society, and it’s meaningful to be tying these loose threads into a tighter philosophy.

Hilary Cinis will be presenting her keynote “Soft-Wiring – Human Centred Design in Ethical Artificial Intelligence Technology Creation” on this this topic at D61+Live in September

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