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How AI will shape the domestic, diplomatic and military landscape

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Wagner and Furst exhaustively explore the inner workings and implications of AI in their new book, “AI Supremacy: Winning in the Era of Machine Learning”.  Each chapter focuses on the current and future state of AI within a specific industry, country or society in general.  Special emphasis is placed on how AI will shape the domestic, diplomatic and military landscapes of the US, EU and China.

Here is an interview with Daniel Wagner

Can you briefly explain the differences between artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the overarching science and engineering associated with intelligent algorithms, whether or not they learn from data. However, the definition of intelligence is subject to philosophical debate-even the terms algorithms can be interpreted in a wide context. This is one of the reasons why there is some confusion about what AI is and what is not, because people use the word loosely and have their own definition of what they believe AI is. People should understand AI to be a catch-all term for technology which tends to imply the latest advances in intelligent algorithms, but the context in how the phrase is used determines its meaning, which can vary quite widely.

Machine learning (ML) is a subfield of AI that focuses on intelligent algorithms that can learn automatically (without being explicitly programmed) from data. There are three general categories of ML: supervised machine learning, unsupervised machine learning, and reinforcement learning.

Deep learning (DL) is a subfield of ML that imitates the workings of the human brain (or neural networks) in the processing of data and creating patterns for use in decision-making. It is true that the way the human brain processes information was one of the main inspirations behind DL, but it only mimics the functioning of neurons. This doesn’t mean that consciousness is being replicated, because we really do not understand all the underlying mechanics driving consciousness. Since DL is a rapidly evolving field there are other more general definitions of it, such as a neural network with more than two layers. The idea of layers is that information is processed by the DL algorithm at one level and then passes information on to the next level so that higher levels of abstraction and conclusions can be drawn about data.

Is China’s Social Credit Score system about to usher in an irreversible Orwellian nightmare there? How likely is it to spread to other dictatorships?

The social credit system that the Chinese government is in the process of unleashing is creating an Orwellian nightmare for some of China’s citizens. We say “some” because many Chinese citizens do not necessarily realize that it is being rolled out. This is because the government has been gradually implementing versions of what has become the social credit system over a period of years without calling it that. Secondly, most Chinese citizens have become numb to the intrusive nature of the Chinese state. They have been poked and prodded in various forms for so long that they have become accustomed to, and somewhat accepting, of it. That said, the social credit system has real consequences for those who fall afoul of it; they will soon learn about the consequences of having done so, if they have not learned already.

As we note in the book, the Chinese government has shared elements of its social credit system technology with a range of states across the world. There is every reason to believe that authoritarian governments will wish to adopt the technology and use it for their own purposes. Some have already done so.

How can we stop consumer drones from being used to aid in blackmail, burglary, assassination, and terrorist attacks?

As Daniel notes in his book Virtual Terror, governments are having a difficult time keeping track of the tens of millions of drones that are in operation in societies around the world. Registering them is largely voluntary and there are too few regulations in place governing their use. Given this, there is little that can be done, at this juncture, to prevent them from being used for nefarious purposes. Moreover, drones’ use on the battlefield is transforming the way individual battles will be fought, and wars will be waged. We have a chapter in the book devoted to this subject.

Google, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have been caught throttling/ending traffic to many progressive (TeleSur, TJ Kirk) and conservative (InfoWars, PragerU) websites and channels. Should search engines and social media platforms be regulated as public utilities, to lend 1st Amendment protections to the users of these American companies?

The current battle being waged–in the courts, legislatures, and the battlefield of social media itself- are already indicative of how so many unanswered questions associated with the rise of social media are being addressed out of necessity. It seems that no one–least of all the social media firms–wants to assume responsibility when things go wrong or uncomfortable questions must be answered. Courts and legislatures will ultimately have to find a middle ground response to issues such as first amendment protections, but this will likely remain a moving target for some time to come, as there is no single black or white answer, and, as each new law comes into effect, its ramifications will become known, which means the laws will undoubtedly need to become subsequently modified.

Do you think blockchain will eventually lead to a golden era of fiscal transparency?

This is hard to say. On one hand, the rise of cryptocurrencies brought with them the promise of money outside the control of governments and large corporations. However, cryptocurrencies have been subject to a number of high-profile heists and there are still some fundamental issues with them, such as the throughput of Bitcoin which is only able to process around a few transactions per second. This makes some cryptocurrencies less viable for real world transactions and everyday commerce.

The financial services industry has jumped on the blockchain bandwagon, but they have taken the open concept of some cryptocurrencies and reinvented it as distributed ledger technology (DLT). To be part of DLTs created by financial institutions, a joining member must be a financial institution. For this reason, the notion of transparency is not relevant, since the DLT will be controlled by a limited number of members and only they will determine what information is public and what is not.

The other issue with the crypto space right now is that is filled with fraud. At the end of the day, crypto is an asset class like gold or any other precious metal. It does not actually produce anything; The only real value it has is the willingness of another person to pay more for it in the future. It is possible that a few cryptocurrencies will survive long-term and become somewhat viable, but the evolution of blockchain will likely continue to move towards DLT that more people will trust. Also, governments are likely to issue their own cryptocurrencies in the future, which will bring it into the mainstream.

Taiwan has recently started using online debate forums to help draft legislation, in a form of direct democracy. Kenya just announced that they will post presidential election results on a blockchain. How can AI and blockchain enhance democracy?

Online debate forums are obviously a good thing, because having the average person engage in political debate and being able to record and aggregate voting results will create an opportunity for more transparency. The challenge becomes how to verify the identities of the people submitting their feedback. Could an AI program be designed to submit feedback millions of times to give a false representation of the public’s concerns?

Estonia has long been revered as the world’s most advanced digital society, but researchers have pointed out serious security flaws in its electronic voting system, which could be manipulated to influence election outcomes. AI can help by putting in place controls to verify that the person providing feedback for legislation is a citizen. Online forums could force users to take a pic of their face next to their passport to verify their identity with facial recognition algorithms.

Should an international statute be passed banning scientists from installing emotions-specially pain and fear-into AI?

Perhaps, for now at least, the question should be: should scientists ban the installation of robots or other forms of AI to imitate human emotions? The short answer to this is that it depends. On one hand, AI imitating human emotions could be a good thing, such as when caring for the elderly or teaching a complex concept to a student. However, a risk is that when AI can imitate human emotions very well, people may believe they have gained a true friend who understands them. It is somewhat paradoxical that the rise of social media has connected more of us, but some people still admit that they lack meaningful relationships with others.

You don’t talk much about India in your book. How far behind are they in the AI race, compared to China, the US & EU?

Surprisingly, many of the world’s countries have only adopted a formal AI strategy in the last year. India is one of them; It only formally adopted an AI strategy in 2018 and lags well behind China, the EU, the US, and variety of other countries. India has tremendous potential to meaningfully enter the race for AI supremacy and become a viable contender, but it still lacks a military AI strategy. India already contributes to advanced AI-oriented technology through its thriving software, engineering, and consulting sectors. Once it ramps up a national strategy, it should quickly become a leader in the AI arena–to the extent that it devotes sufficient resources to that strategy and swiftly and effectively implements it. That is not a guaranteed outcome, based on the country’s prior history with some prior national initiatives. We must wait and see if India lives up to its potential in this arena.

On page 58 you write, “Higher-paying jobs requiring creativity and problem-solving skills, often assisted by computers, have proliferated… Demand has increased for lower skilled restaurant workers, janitors, home health aides, and others providing services that cannot be automated.” How will we be able to stop this kind of income inequality?

In all likelihood, the rise of AI will, at least temporarily, increased the schism between highly paid white-collar jobs and lower paid blue-collar jobs, however, at the same time, AI will, over decades, dramatically alter the jobs landscape. Entire industries will be transformed to become more efficient and cost effective. In some cases this will result in a loss of jobs while in others it will result in job creation. What history has shown is that, even in the face of transformational change, the job market has a way of self-correcting; Overall levels of employment tend to stay more or less the same. We have no doubt that this will prove to be the case in this AI-driven era. While income inequality will remain a persistent threat, our expectation is that, two decades from now, it will be no worse than it is right now.

AI systems like COMPAS and PredPol have been exposed for being racially biased. During YouTube’s “Adpocalypse”, many news and opinion videos got demonetized by algorithms indiscriminately targeting keywords like ‘war’ and ‘racism”. How can scientists and executives prevent their biases from influencing their AI?

This will be an ongoing debate. Facebook removed a PragerU video where a woman was describing the need for strong men in society and the problem with feminizing them. Ultimately, Facebook said it was a mistake and put the video back up. So the question becomes who decides what constitutes “racist” or “hate speech” content? The legal issues seem to emerge, if it can be argued that the content being communicated are calling on people to act in a violent way.

Could the political preferences of a social media company’s executives overrule the sensibilities of the common person to make up their own mind? On the other hand, India has a string of mob killings from disinformation campaigns on WhatsApp, mostly from people who were first time smartphone users. Companies could argue that some people are not able to distinguish between real and fake videos so content must be censored in that case.

Ultimately, executives and scientists will need to have an open and ongoing debate about content censorship. Companies must devise a set of principles and adhere to them to the best of their ability. As AI becomes more prevalent in monitoring and censoring online content there will have to be more transparency about the process and the algorithms will need to be adjusted following a review by the company. In other words, companies cannot prevent algorithmic biases, but they can monitor them and be transparent with the public about steps to make them better over time.

Amper is an AI music composer. Heliograf has written about 1000 news blurbs for WaPo. E-sports and e-bands are starting to sell out stadiums. Are there any human careers that you see as being automation-proof?

In theory, nearly any cognitive or physical task can be automated. We do not believe that people should be too worried, at least for the time being, about the implications of doing so because the costs to automate even basic tasks to the level of human performance is extremely high, and we are a good ways away from being technically capable of automating most tasks. However, AI should spark conversations about how we want to structure our society in the future and what it means to be human because AI will improve over time and become more dominant in the economy.

In Chapter 1 you briefly mention digital amnesia (outsourcing the responsibility of memorizing stuff to one’s devices). How else do you anticipate consumer devices will change us psychologically in the next few decades?

We could see a spike in schizophrenia because the immersive nature of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality that will increasingly blur the lines between reality and fantasy. In the 1960s there was a surge of interest in mind-expanding drugs such as psychedelics. However, someone ingesting LSD knew there was a time limit associated with the effects of the drug. These technologies do not end. Slowly, the real world could become less appealing and less real for heavy users of extended reality technology. This could affect relationships between other humans and increase the nature and commonality of mental illness. Also, as discussed in the book, we are already seeing people who cannot deal with risk in the real world. There have been several cases of animal mauling, cliff falls, and car crashes among individuals in search of the perfect “selfie”. This tendency to want to perfect our digital personas should be a topic of debate in schools and at the dinner table.

Ready Player One is the most recent sci-fi film positing the gradual elimination of corporeal existence through Virtual Reality. What do you think of the transcension hypothesis on Fermi’s paradox?

The idea that our consciousness can exist independently from our bodies has occurred  throughout humanity’s history. It appears that our consciousness is a product of our own living bodies. No one knows if a person’s consciousness can exist after the body dies, but some have suggested that a person’s brain still functions for a few minutes after the body dies. It seems we need to worry about the impact of virtual reality on our physical bodies before it will be possible for us to transcend our bodies and exist on a digital plane. This is a great thought experiment, but there is not enough evidence to suggest that this is even remotely possible in the future.

What role will AI play in climate change?

AI will become an indispensable tool for helping to predict the impacts of climate change in the future. The field of “Climate Informatics” is already blossoming, harnessing AI to fundamentally transform weather forecasting (including the prediction of extreme events) and to improve our understanding of the effects of climate change. Much more thought and research needs to be devoted to exploring the linkages between the technology revolution and other important global trends, including demographic changes such as ageing and migration, climate change, and sustainable development, but AI should make a real difference in enhancing our general understanding of the impacts of these, and other, phenomena going forward.

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Nuclear Technology Helps Develop New Barley Variety in Kuwait

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The IAEA has provided support to Kuwait in practical training on mutant identification and selection of barley mutant population in the field. (Photo: L. Jankuloski/IAEA)

New home-grown barley varieties developed using irradiation with the support of the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are in the final stages of development and will be ready to be released to farmers for production in coming years.

“Modern plant breeding technologies ensuring sustainability and conservation of scarce natural resources are of paramount importance in achieving national food security and the enhancement of biodiversity,” said Habibah S. Al-Menaie, a senior research scientist in the Desert Agriculture and Ecosystems Program of the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR). “Joining the FAO/IAEA coordinated research projects in the area of mutation breeding has led to the development of several barley mutant lines with improved yield and quality under Kuwait’s environmental conditions.”

As arable land is limited to small areas, 95% of the country’s food and animal fodder is imported. Barley is a preferred crop for cultivation, because it is relatively drought tolerant and therefore one of the most suitable crops for an arid country like Kuwait. Having high yielding home grown crops is among the key objectives of the country’s agricultural programme to enhance food security.

“Increased agricultural production in Kuwait is a major challenge due to several constraints such as drought, salinity, limited water sources, limited plant genetic resources, low percentage of arable land and unpredictable climatic events,” said Al-Menaie.

The development of new varieties with improved traits is just the first step towards increasing yields. Optimizing water and nutrient use efficiency helps ensure that the new improved varieties live up to their yield potential and provide agronomic, environmental and economic benefits. “Efficient crop production requires the establishment of appropriate soil, water and crop management practices in the field. In this regard, soil moisture levels are monitored to develop effective strategies for resource efficient crop production. It increases the efficiency of the agricultural production and conserves natural resources,” Al-Menaie said.

This is a major step forward for the country’s small agriculture industry, said Nader Al-Awadi, the Executive Commissioner for International Cooperation at KISR. Drought, salinity and diseases have historically limited staple crop productivity in Kuwait. The lack of crop varieties optimized to local environmental conditions and improper soil, water and nutrient management practices have hindered sustainable and efficient agricultural production so far, he added.

Mutated barley — the next generation

Mutation induction by radiation rapidly increases the genetic diversity necessary to produce new and improved varieties and is thus advantageous over traditional breeding. “There was no crop mutation work until cooperation commenced with the FAO/IAEA Programme and equipment was received for plant propagation and screening purposes,” Al-Menaie said. With the view to develop the new barley varieties, the growth and yield performance of introduced barley varieties and lines from other countries were evaluated under Kuwait’s environmental conditions. The best adaptable varieties were identified, and the seeds were subjected to induced mutation using gamma rays.

New mutant lines have been generated and they are now examined for drought and salinity tolerance. The selected mutant lines will be advanced, which then can be multiplied for planting. “It’s a long process, but we are about to see the life-changing results, which will have a great impact in the agricultural sector of Kuwait very soon,” Al-Menaie said.

Changed attitude: Increasing farmer awareness

One of the major challenges was explaining to farmers the safety of the new mutated barley lines developed. “When they heard that ‘nuclear techniques’ were used to create improved barely seeds, they got scared,” Al-Menaie said, adding that the authorities encouraged land owners and farmers to participate in crop mutation technology workshops. These provided in-depth information and resulted – over time – in a changed attitude amongst farmers, she said.

Eisa Al-Hasawy, the Chairperson of the Kuwait Dairy Company, pioneered farmers’ support to KISR efforts to promote the benefits of the new mutated barley. “We are happy that on our sandy soil, with little or no water, the new barley variety will be produced to benefit our people and hopefully lead to us exporting barley in the future,” he said. “Working at the grass root level with local farmers was vital to overcoming their fears and traditional mindset.”

Training and enhancing expertise

The FAO/IAEA support has been key to the success in developing the new barley variety. Through technical cooperation and coordinated research projects, the training in integrated crop mutation techniques as well equipment provided to the KISR plant and soil laboratories have helped scientists to gain a better understanding of how nuclear techniques such a gamma ray induction for crop mutation can help to have better crops, Al-Menaie said.

For barley to grow and produce seeds, soil moisture is critical, for which the FAO/IAEA Programme’s support to KISR’s soil and water section, through training and equipment, has been an added value, she said.

To assess the moisture levels in soil, and to ensure every drop of water is used, the FAO/IAEA experts provided training on soil water management and soil moisture equipment, including the use of the cosmic ray neutron sensor to assess water availability to the crop. The cosmic ray sensor monitors soil moisture over up to 20 hectares, a much bigger footprint compared to conventional moisture sensors, said Abdullah Salem Alshatti, the principal researcher at the KISR Soil Department.

The moisture in the soil is tracked in real time and the data acquired helps develop effective strategies to optimise supplemental irrigation to have soil moist to a level that benefits crop production, he said. “Data collected from the cosmic ray sensor also helps to develop precise action to conserve moisture in the soil by using dry weeds and tree barks on the top soil to preserve wetness”.

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Toward Closing the Gender Gap in Nuclear Science

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Philippine students do hands-on experiments to learn about nuclear science. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)

Authors: Miklos Gaspar and Margot Dubertrand*

Women make up less than a quarter of the workforce in the nuclear sector worldwide, hurting not only diversity within the industry, but also competitiveness, experts have said. Many organizations, including the IAEA, are actively working to increase the share of women in all job categories.

“Although there are many talented and highly-skilled women within the nuclear industry, we are still vastly under-represented. There is still work to do,” said Gwen PerryJones, Executive Director of Operations Development at the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power plant in the United Kingdom. “Diversity in the workplace benefits us all, and I fully support initiatives that encourage women to enter the industry and help them see routes to senior positions.”

Women who have made it to leadership roles are making a significant contribution. Muhayatun Santoso, a senior researcher at Indonesia’s National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN), has led ground-breaking research into the use of nuclear techniques to measure air pollution in many of Indonesia’s cities. Her work contributed to Bandung, Indonesia’s third largest city, receiving the ASEAN Environmentally Sustainable Cities Award in 2017.

“Air pollution is a major problem across urban areas in Indonesia, with a surge in industrial activity and traffic increasing the amount of toxic substances in the air,” she said. “I am proud to be able to help my country tackle this major problem.”

Agneta Rising, Director General of the World Nuclear Association, is a leading specialist on nuclear energy and the environment. While she was Vice President for the Environment at Vattenfall AB, Sweden’s state-owned nuclear and hydropower operator, she headed a pan-European department focused on energy, environment, and sustainability. She is also the co-founder and former President of Women in Nuclear (WiN). During her presidency, WiN quadrupled in size.

“Women are essential to the strong development of the global nuclear sector. To be the most competitive, a business needs to have the best people working for it. The nuclear industry should have programmes to attract and recruit women, otherwise they would be missing out on the competitive advantage their talents could bring,” said Rising. “When the workforce better reflects the diversity of society, including the representation of women, it also helps to build society’s trust in nuclear technologies.”

At present, women make up only 22.4% of the workforce in the nuclear sector, according to data from the IAEA.

Women in Nuclear

The goal of WiN, a non-profit organization with 35,000 members in 109 countries, advocates for stronger roles for women in nuclear science and technology and to increase awareness of the importance of gender balance in historically maledominated fields. It also promotes these areas to women making career choices.

“While there is a growing proportion of women in senior technical positions in every branch of nuclear science and technology, women are still under-represented,” said Gabriele Voigt, President of WiN and former manager of nuclear facilities and laboratories in Germany and at the IAEA.

“Part of the problem is that too few young women study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in secondary and higher education,” she said. “Another issue is the omnipresent glass ceiling and bias — whether conscious or unconscious — that is difficult to confront in the work environment.”

WiN is helping to change that by increasing girls’ exposure to nuclear-related topics from a young age and by building a strong network of women and creating access to role models for the next generation. Some countries, including with the help of the IAEA, are introducing nuclear science to high school students with a particular emphasis on girls.

“Presenting science, and particularly nuclear science, to girls at an early age is the best way to achieve a higher proportion of female scientists in this field,” said Micah Pacheco, regional science supervisor at the Philippines’ Ministry of Education, under whose watch several schools in the Manila area have introduced nuclear science and technology education programmes. “Nuclear is fun — girls should see that!”

The IAEA’s progress on gender parity

As of the end of 2017, the proportion of women in the professional and higher categories at the IAEA reached 29%, compared to 22.5% ten years earlier. Director General Yukiya Amano has stated that he would like to achieve gender parity at the most senior level by 2021.

“The Agency has taken concrete steps to improve the representation of women in the Secretariat through targeted recruitment efforts and awareness-raising activities, and we’ve seen improvement in the representation of women at the Agency,” said Mary Alice Hayward, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Management at the IAEA. “But we are conscious of the challenges that remain. Gender equality in the workplace requires more than improving the statistics — it also means making sure the IAEA is a place where women want to work.”

This includes creating a supportive environment, such as flexible working arrangements that enable staff members to combine work and family responsibilities, as well as special outreach campaigns to young women highlighting the benefits of working at the IAEA.

An example of success in reaching gender parity in senior roles at the IAEA was in the Division of Information Technology. While it is historically a male-dominated field, an active campaign and sourcing strategy resulted in targeted outreach to many qualified women candidates.

At the Office of Legal Affairs, the majority of professional staff are women.

“Not only do we have a female Director, two of the three Section Heads are also female, meaning 75% of the senior staff are women,” said Director Peri Lynne Johnson. “Furthermore, we have 11 female lawyers and ten male lawyers, and we try to ensure parity among our interns.”

*Margot Dubertrand, IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication

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We need to build more networks of women in science

MD Staff

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photo: UN Environment

Why science?

I was born in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania with family roots in Usangi, near Mount Kilimanjaro. I was lucky. My parents were community organizers in our village, educated in finance and economics during pre-independent Tanzania. They were not scientists, but they had a clear vision for all their six children—that we would all study science. So it was a bit of a nudge followed by encouragement. They were firm believers that we needed a strong grounding in science so we could analyze the world and do anything we wanted to. They believed science provided strong analytical foundation and flexibility to pursue either science or non-science careers later in life. I am grateful for my parents’ vision of science for their girls and boys.

We were an unusual family compared to the norm in East Africa at that time. Some of my brothers are now doctors, engineers, accountants, and I have a sister who audits information technology systems for a living. A lot of people commented that it wasn’t the “right profession for women” but I was drawn to science because I was curious. And no matter what else I do in life now, I find I have that tendency to prod people and ideas a bit more than is typical.

How hard was it to grow up in East Africa with an interest in science?

In the ‘70s and ‘80s when I was growing up, there were a lot of good missionary schools which had a strong grounding in science. But it was not common for a girl to take physics, chemistry and biology. I had a wonderful headmistress and mentor, Mama Kamm, who believed that girls should do science, and cooking, and needlework! I then obtained a degree in immunology and biochemistry. But it became clear to me how male-dominated this field really was when I went to science competitions or events, and found myself one of the very few women participating. It seemed daunting at the time, but it helped me build the resilience I would later need to work in other male-dominated environments. That, and growing up with four brothers and a family that allowed me to compete with them.

What obstacles did you face when you left Tanzania?

I went to Glasgow, Scotland to pursue a science degree and found that if there were few women studying science at university, even fewer were from Africa. So there, I became a young African woman scientist. It was isolating, and I really had no one to look up to as a role model. This was one of the hardest parts of pursuing science. When I moved to Canada to study microbiology and immunology, it was clear that I had to work much harder than my male colleagues because expectations were so much lower for me as an African woman. I also learned that I needed to develop my own support networks for my science ambition. Because I was abroad, I had to be open to networking with non-Tanzanians: my interest in science became the glue of some of the relationships I developed then.

What perceptions need to change so more girls and women choose science as a career?

Family perception is everything. I was lucky, but not many are. Second, is the perception of your peer group. A lot of who you become in life is influenced by the people around you in your formative years. Third, societal pressure is a big hindrance. How are you perceived by your neighbours, or your friends or teachers? I think that as a girl in science you have to find a way to persevere despite those three levels of pressure. It is important to find how to build networks of women like yourself, and call on them for support and reassurance. Many of my classmates in the girls boarding school where I grew up run important scientific institutions in Tanzania, and even now, no matter where I am in the world, I reach out to this group of friends for support. Our headmistress Mama Kamm transformed the science and girls agenda in Tanzania—we still look up to her for inspiration and admiration. We have our own cohort of women who studied science. But you also have to remember that your network has to include men, because as women, we can learn from them and also count on them as our champions to change some of the misconceptions about girls and science. For example, in my case, I observed early on that my male peers tended to question authority and decisions much more than I did. When I first left Tanzania to study science, it never occurred to me to ask why my paper hadn’t been published, but a man will never shy away from asking that question. I decided to learn from these colleagues and adjusted my professional behavior accordingly.

How can more girls and women choose science as a career?

You have to address self-doubt because expectations from women are often very different and lower than from our male peers. We need to have many more role models. When I was growing up, there were not many women I could look up to and think “I want to be like her.” But technology has made finding these role models so much easier today. We need to use our personal stories to inspire girls. Science provided me with the fundamental DNA to do anything in my life. So while I started my career as a researcher, I later branched out to public health and policy, and today, to environment. It was my scientific foundation that made this possible. This is what I really enjoy about my new role at UN Environment: we inform the global environmental agenda through work that is grounded in science. And so the curiosity continues.

What opportunities do environmental science offer?

Environmental science is a rapidly expanding field, and as our awareness of environmental issues grows, there are more career options within environmental science for girls and women. You can pursue a degree in public health and decide to focus on environmental pollution, for example. So there are many more opportunities and options. For women, life is never clear cut and dry, no matter how much we try—we are far more nuanced in our approach to just about anything, including science. This is why I feel environmental science can only become stronger if we have more women in research, because we often bring the human angle into the science. For us to make a difference in this field, we have to start with and think of people and humanity—the social aspects of environment are equally important. These are exciting opportunities for girls and women!

UN Environment

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