Women in AI: Akiko Fukuda
Akiko Fukuda is the General Manager of the Cotoha virtual assistant service at NTT Communications, a leading global provider of information and communications technology solutions. Cotoha is a virtual assistant for Japanese enterprise customers, and Akiko leads a team of 35 people responsible for Cotoha services, development and cognitive AI strategy.
Growing up, Akiko always loved math and was inspired to pursue a career in STEM. She credits her family for accepting and supporting her interest in math and pursuing a STEM career, as few women in Japan receive the same encouragement from their own families. Akiko explains that in Japan, oftentimes the perception is that men are more capable in those fields.
Akiko went on to receive her undergraduate degree in engineering with a focus on statistics, quality management and information technology. A former boss and mentor selected Akiko for the MIT Sloan fellowship program, which at the time was comprised of 100 people from 26 different countries. This was Akiko’s first truly global experience; as she didn’t speak English, she was nervous about how people would perceive her at first. However, the program ultimately boosted her confidence and helped her to develop strong team-building skills. She learned how to work well with people from various backgrounds, how to best communicate, and how to work toward a common goal. Working in such a collaborative environment with people from such diverse backgrounds prepared Akiko for her current career path.
As the leader of the AI team at NTT Communications, Akiko feels an immense sense of satisfaction for where she is in her career. “I feel like the CEO of my own startup because I’m able to work on innovative and forward-thinking initiatives, but with the support of a global Fortune 100 company behind me,” she says. Akiko is most excited to see how AI will develop with enhanced NLP (natural language processing) and conversational AI going forward, and to witness more women leading AI efforts and pursuing careers in STEM.
Akiko hopes she can open the door for other women to pursue STEM careers. Her advice to young women interested in the field: “Be clever — use being a woman to your advantage. Men tend to follow unwritten rules, women know the rules but can break them, which is great for innovation like AI.”