Encouraging More Engineers to Pursue AI

How a universal language could make AI more inclusive

If any one technology will define the next decade, it’s artificial intelligence (AI). Across almost, every sector — from finance to retail, education, transportation, and beyond — AI will transform the way we live, work, and communicate. Millions of budding engineers and data scientists are interested in pursuing a career in AI around the world, but they are held back by a simple roadblock: the vast majority of documentation and educational materials about AI are in English.

Universities, companies, and government organizations must make a massive concerted effort to train the next generation of AI and machine learning specialists. While organizations worldwide need to hire hundreds of thousands of AI engineers, there may be only 90,000 people currently qualified to do those jobs. One thing the AI community can do today to encourage more young people to join the field is to make it more inclusive.

As an AI engineer whose first language is not English, I’ve thought a lot about this issue over my career. When I was first starting out learning AI in Peru, it was hard to find technical documentation in Spanish, and even though I speak English, it was challenging to map the new concepts to my second language. That’s why I decided to create a comprehensive Spanish-English dictionary of AI terms. Shared on GitHub as an open source project and freely available to anyone who wants to use it or add to it, I believe the dictionary is a step in the right direction in helping to make this community easier to welcome new members, which often do not have a voice.

The genesis of this dictionary came, in part, from my own experience. When people want to learn a new concept in AI, they often must refer to a book or take an online class. But when English isn’t your first language, you can sometimes miss important nuances because you often don’t clearly understand some technical terms. With this Spanish-English Dictionary of Technical Terms in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Spanish speakers can now consult the document to understand technical terms used in a book, online discussion, article, or course, getting a deeper understanding of the material. This can help eliminate frustration and encourages Spanish speakers to learn about AI, as well as feel more comfortable contributing to the global AI community through open-source platforms.

A Spanish-English AI dictionary is just a first step toward making the AI community more inclusive and I’d love to see similar dictionaries paired in other languages from Africa or Asia. In a perfect world, everyone would have fair access to AI knowledge in their own languages, but the reality is English has become the lingua franca among AI developers. Multilingual AI dictionaries could help make AI information more readily available to the whole world, encouraging young engineers and students across the globe to get on a level-playing field in AI development.

Beyond the scope of multilingual dictionaries, AI engineers can also do far more to make the AI community inclusive. As a member of the LatinX in AI Coalition, which supports Spanish-speaking engineers, I recently presented a keynote in a workshop during the 2018 NeurIPS conference and presented the Spanish-English AI dictionary during my talk. Capital One sponsored the event as part of its larger commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion in the tech industry and many other companies are also supporting such causes. Inspired by our company’s commitment to this important cause, I saw a way I could make my own contribution to the greater effort.

There has been positive feedback about the Spanish-English AI dictionary, not only from Spanish-speaking technologists, but also journalists, patent lawyers, and others peripherally involved in the field. Spanish speakers who’ve used the dictionary have said it makes learning about AI a bit less intimidating.

True diversity in tech will only come when everyone has access to the same technical information and educational opportunities. When young technologists feel welcomed into the AI development community — no matter what language they speak or culture they come from — that openness will go a long way to increasing the number of skilled engineers, along with more diverse perspectives and experiences in the field. With so much burgeoning AI talent around the world, why not invite more of these technologists to learn about AI in their own language, so they can then contribute to the global development community? That was my personal goal in creating the Spanish-English AI dictionary and it’s just a small part of Capital One’s overall mission to foster inclusion in the tech community as a whole.

Omar U. Florez, Senior Research Manager in AI at Capital One

Senior Research Manager in AI at Capital One - Conversational AI Research team. Teaching computers to see, read, and understand.

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