Cansu is a philosopher and the founder + director of the AI Ethics Lab, where she leads teams of computer scientists, philosophers, and legal scholars to provide ethics analysis and guidance to researchers, practitioners, and businesses. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy specializing in applied ethics. Her area of work is in ethics of technology and population-level bioethics with an interest in policy questions.
Prior to the AI Ethics Lab, she was a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, and a researcher at the Harvard Law School, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, National University of Singapore, Osaka University, and the World Health Organization.
WITH GROUPS CREATING PROGRAMS TO ENCOURAGE FEMALES TO CONSIDER STEM, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST BARRIER TO ENTRY THAT IS STILL PREVALENT TODAY?
The gender gap in STEM seems to increase most drastically right before and during high school. This means that we need to encourage girls to do STEM from very early on and keep that encouragement strong as they go through their education. It seems like there are several misconceptions that make many students, especially girls, turn away from STEM. Some of those are about the field itself and some of them are about themselves. The field of STEM is not an isolated world of numbers, as some describe it. Rather, we need to show kids and young adults STEM’s huge effects on society and on individual lives. And when it comes to achievement in STEM, girls and young women should realize that women can do great in this field. We need to make sure that those successful, fearless, and impressive women in STEM are visible to girls as role models.
I come from a different path: I’m a philosopher working on the ethics of technology. Philosophy is another male dominant field and working on technology means that I work a lot with other male dominant fields in STEM. I would also emphasize that the mindset and training in STEM complements and prepares beautifully for a training in philosophy. I would love to see more women in the intersection of philosophy and technology!
WHAT OR WHO INSPIRES YOU?
A ruthlessly critical mind, a fearless pursuit of the “good”, and an authentic life.
WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT/ACCOMPLISHMENT?
My Lab. I started working on AI Ethics Lab in late 2016 and made the Lab active in late 2017. During all that time, I was repeatedly advised that there is not much demand for AI ethics in academia or in the industry and I should focus on other areas for the time being. I did not take this advice (luckily!), took the risk, and worked very hard to build a lab that satisfies our curiosity through research and brings ideals into real world through working with companies and institutions. I learned a lot while building AI Ethics Lab and, as the Lab grows, there are always new things to discover. I love every minute of it. I often think that I’m living my dream life.