McMaster Women in Tech: Jodie Lobana
Jodie Lobana is the August 2020 changemaker in the McMaster Women in Tech series. Developed by the Office of the AVP & CTO, ‘McMaster Women in Tech’ is a project that highlights and recognizes women tech changemakers within the McMaster community. Read how our latest changemaker is researching AI, its incredible possibilities, and what that means for the future of our campus.
Name: Jodie Lobana
Role/Current areas of work (both volunteer & career):
Chair, Advisory Board, McMaster AI Society; PhD Candidate in Governance of Artificial Intelligence at McMaster University; Adjunct Faculty Member at York University; Managing Director, Lobana Consulting Group Inc.; Chair of IT Steering Committee and a Board Member at OECM; Member of the International Internal Audit Standards Board.
Area of Expertise: Governance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Information Technology (IT) in general, Risk and Controls, and Internal Audit.
Motivational Anthem: Fight song (by Rachel Platten) –
Like a small boat, On the ocean; Sending big waves, Into motion;
Like how a single word, Can make a heart open
I might only have one match, But I can make an explosion
Recommended read/ podcast:
Reads: A Human’s guide to Machine Intelligence (by Kartik Hosanagar); Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the digital age (by Brad Smith, Carol Ann Browne);
Listens: AI Today (by Cognilytica), and Artificial Intelligence (with Lex Fridman)
Professional superpower: Three Superpowers: 1. Ability to act in an instant (very high speed in converting insights into tangible reality, especially when I am in the Zone); 2. Ability to act as a bridge between science and spirituality (inside out connectivity); 3. And perhaps most important—Strong Intention to serve and help solve big problems that humanity is facing now and in the future.
Tell us a bit about your research in AI governance
My thesis research is in Governance of AI. This research takes the perspective of a board of directors to develop a holistic governance framework for the boards of companies to assist them in more effectively steering AI activity within their organizations. The goal of effective AI governance is to maximize returns from AI products and services while optimizing the related risks.
One early research finding is that with AI, society has come front and centre, so issues such as biases in data, security, privacy, diversity, explainability of model recommendations, and transparency have now gained a prominent place in the AI governance discussions.
Another interesting finding is that within AI governance, most time and attention is given to data governance. It is because data is the life blood of the AI systems. Without data, there is no AI.
There is already much international interest in learning about my detailed findings. I have been invited to Australia to share my findings at a conference in early 2021, with interest growing in USA, Sweden, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan. I am planning to do a speaking circuit around the world to discuss and share the findings so that as many nations as possible can benefit from the research.
You contribute to numerous initiatives at McMaster, including the AI Society. Please share a bit about your experience on this committee and how you foresee higher education leveraging AI in future.
I am the Chair of the Advisory Board with the McMaster AI Society. A chance meeting with the management of the AI Society in Feb 2019 started the idea of putting together an advisory board that will increase McMaster students’ access to external funding, research opportunities, internships, and employment opportunities in the AI domain. We currently have eight Advisory Board members from both big and small AI companies, AI consulting firms, McMaster faculty members, and administration. We, as the board, are excited to support the AI Society Executive team in achieving their goals in the upcoming year, and in turn, move McMaster forward in its AI journey.
In the future, AI will play a big part in higher education. Some highlights of what is possible with AI is the following:
- AI could actively monitor students based on their stated study goals and objectives and prepare a personalized study plan for each individual student. Then, AI could amend the plan based on the student’s progress. With such personalization, a bachelor’s degree does not have to be the standard three years; it could be one to five years depending on the student’s progress.
- For students that need additional assistance, AI could provide learning tools and technologies, such as games and quizzes, that focus on the student’s development in the identified areas of improvement.
- AI and Blockchain combined could keep a repository of educational and work experience of a student as their running profile. A student can provide a view access to their profile to a future employer to get fast employment opportunities. This process will increase the potential employer’s confidence in the student’s background and instill discipline and accountability in the student so they are motivated to keep their profile as good as possible.
Why did you pursue a career and research in information systems?
My move into the information systems area is more destiny rather than planned. My journey started as a Chartered Accountant (CA), moving into internal audit, IT audit, corporate governance, IT governance, and now, in AI governance.
Interestingly, two interventions in my life directed me towards my move to AI governance. The first event was in May 2011 when I received an offer from York University to teach IT governance for a master’s level course. It was pure luck or as I call it divine intervention because I never applied to teach the course. Dr. Sung Kwon, the innovative graduate director of the program, put two and two together from my background in various related fields of audit, IT, and governance, and then proposed I teach the course.
The second intervention happened in the middle of my PhD at McMaster trying to decide what my thesis topic would be; when I saw a news item in early 2017 where Elon Musk said that AI can potentially destroy humanity. Right at that instance, I had an instant knowing that I needed to move my thesis topic to AI. The urge was so strong that there was no other option to pursue. In fact, I always said to myself that my primary aim is to make a positive impact on humanity, so I thought that if humanity is going to be potentially destroyed in one area, I cannot work in another area but that. I needed to do my job to protect humanity. I guess, I am one of the soldiers working for humanity.
Within the context of the IT/tech industry, how can women help other women?
It warms my heart to see women leaders helping other women become leaders. In fact, our own Associate Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer Gayleen Gray is one such woman leader who is constantly promoting other women leaders in technology.
Three ways women leaders can help other women include: 1. Mentor other women so they can take the right steps forward and avoid mistakes in their careers; 2. Provide other women opportunities to learn about technology by getting them involved in technological projects; 3. And assist in introducing other women to key influencers so they can have the opportunities that would not have been possible otherwise.
What is one key thing that men can do to be allies of women in the industry?
Men are already allies of women. Women would not have progressed this far without the help of progressive men who had the intention to get us here. In my own personal career, men have always assisted me as mentors, bosses, and colleagues. I am currently guided in my PhD journey by my advisor and mentor, Dr. Brian Detlor, who is constantly encouraging and supporting me to achieve ever higher goals on a regular basis.
To reflect on what more men can do to assist women is to: 1. Educate other men on their progressive thinking; 2. Actively give women more opportunities to work with technological projects; 3. And provide funding towards women’s development in technological fields, such as courses in python, agile project management, and machine learning.
To encourage men to do even more, we should start with celebrating men who already do a lot.
What are some misconceptions that women might have about working in tech?
One of the key misconceptions about technology is that it is about wires and coding. This is far from the truth. In fact, the bulk of work in technology is around problem identification and prioritization, engagement and collaboration with others to problem solve, and management of people and culture.
The core technology part is probably only 10-20 per cent of everything that needs to be done in technology.
Having said that, I believe if we start girls at early ages and start building their interest in the technical matters including programming, the chances are higher that more girls will start to get involved in these technologies at a later age.
We can also challenge the idea that women must conform to technology. We can instead look for ways to change technology to adapt to their interests.
As part of McMaster’s IT Strategy, stakeholders across the university shared ‘Digital Moments’ vignettes that capture what technology could look like for Marauders of the future. What does the future of technology at McMaster look like to you?
In the future, McMaster will have a central intelligence system containing profiles of all faculty members, students, staff, and alumni. With one search, we will be able to search all people working in a particular area. In fact, the system will be so smart that it will autonomously search for collaboration ideas for people, and automatically provide interesting paths to pursue (based on background and stated interests of the people involved). It will have an Amazon-style recommendation system to assist students by letting them know about courses or activities that other students with similar profiles have enrolled in. This can equip students with capabilities that are currently not possible.
McMaster will offer personalized learning and degrees that are individually customizable.
With instant translation capabilities, students will be able to communicate with other students from any part of the world without any language barriers.
Robots will be present on the campus to provide 24/7 customer service.Change Makers, News Category