BEIRUT: On March 1, over 700 people, men and women alike, flooded the Mehmery Auditorium at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business, AUB, for the third annual Women in Data Science (WiDS) conference.
The WiDS initiative, which started at Stanford University in Palo Alto-California, was created in 2015 with the aim of inspiring and educating data scientists irrespective of gender. The initiative also aims to support women in the field of data science.
In 2019, WiDS has gone global with over one hundred and fifty regional events worldwide, a podcast, a datathon, and a global conversation.
On a local level, the conference gained exponential traction on social media. A live stream of social media updates tagging “@WiDS_AUB,” “#WiDS,” “#WiDS19,” were projected throughout the conference.
Steve Harvey, Ph.D., Dean of the Olayan School of Business, acknowledged that the next generation will be built on an infrastructure deeply rooted in Artificial Intelligence.
“New generations are going to be founded on things that are said today,” he stated in his address.
The conference brought together speakers who have set precedent of women in data science.
The keynote speaker, Cassie Kozyrkov, Ph.D., Chief Data Scientist at Google Cloud, left the audience stunned as she dispelled the complex and abstract artificial intelligence using a simple metaphor about microwave usage.
"Most of us use microwaves but have no idea how they work. How do you trust those things? You trust them because you know they will deliver what you need from them,” she said. “With ML and AI, you are going to put data in them and you're going to make sure what comes out is what you want."
Kozyrkov stressed the importance of diversity in the workplace during her keynote address.
“The power of data is that it’s a memory extension. It’s not an objective reality, but it is fundamentally subjective,” she said, adding that “Diversity matters.”
Following Kozykov, Becky Tucker, Senior Data Scientist at Neflix, spoke on building data science intuition and stressed that data science is useless without communication.
“If I've built the best model in the world but no one trusts it, all the efforts are wasted. That is the importance of Communication in Data Science,” she stated in her speech.
Building on the importance of communication, Laura Chaibi, Head of Marketing Analysis and Syndicate Digital Data at MBC Dubai, talked about the challenges in analyzing user data to find human behavior.
“In the digital world, life gets in your way of measuring key indicators in your dataset. Never get a metric on its own," Chaibi said.
Following the discussion of human behavior and communication strategies, Dana Sarkis, Head of Marketing Science and Growth Strategy at Hearts and Science, addressed the necessity of digital transformation.
“67% of the companies claim that they don’t have the talent to drive transformation...digital transformation should be within the culture of the company," she said.
“The conference, dedicated to data science in the private sector, also included a side panel covering the public sector.”
Lead by Lina Oueidat, Ph.D., Prime Minister Advisor and National Coordinator of ICT, and Samia Melhem, Global Lead of Digital Development at the World Bank, a panel that addressed the necessity of adapting to a digital economy despite multifaceted challenges was held.
The day was concluded with a talk about the exponential growth of AI in the medical field.
“AI in healthcare is growing by two digits in the cumulative annual growth rate...in the area of healthcare and life sciences, anything we do with data, we have to do with a purpose," Maria Gebrani, Ph.D., Manager of Cognitive Healthcare and Sciences at IBM, said.
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