Women in AI: Laura Tocmacov
Laura Tocmacov Venchiarutti is co-founder and managing director of the ImpactIA Foundation, an organization that aims to accelerate the adoption of ethical, robust, and cost-effective AI for a sustainable human workforce. The foundation was established in 2018 and is based in Geneva, Switzerland and has an international reach. “We help transform individuals’ skills and train them in new AI trades,” Laura explained.
ImpactIA focuses on transforming businesses by helping them adopt AI in a sustainable way. “In particular, we have modelled an AI process dedicated to SMEs that make it easier for them to optimize their own business processes because they do not have the resources in-house to implement AI,” Laura said. In addition to this, the company dedicates time to Research and Social Development. “We are developing AI pilot projects that will have a positive impact on the work. For example, we designed the RobotMe project, a platform on which employees train artificial intelligence to do their job. They will then be paid each time this AI performs a task they have taught them. In exchange, employees can train themselves in less automatable tasks or occupations,” says Laura. ImpactIA’s advisory board, comprised of 21 international multidisciplinary experts, intends to better understand the context and ecosystem of AI.
Before co-founding the organization, Laura worked with professional transition and social entrepreneurship. When she met Timothy O’Hear, CTO of Swissbilling, she was inspired to get impactIA off the ground. She knew, like others, that AI would have a major impact on employment, but at the same time very little action was being taken to help people accelerate these skills and begin the necessary transition triggered by this technology. Laura believes: “AI is a technology that, for the first time in human history, will change our relationship with work. We will be able to restore meaning to work and no longer suffer the collateral damage on physical and psychological health.”
Laura says she devoted the foundation to AI because she believes that we need to think differently about AI, even in the short term. “Employers cannot simply think that AI will save them money on wages because they will lose the commitment of their employees. As AI is adopted, companies need the support of their employees,” Laura says. Her foundation’s research helps them plan for the long term with AI as well. Companies need to think of their employees as collaborators to add the most value.
“What fascinates me most about AI is the optimistic impact of this technology that allows human work to be a source of fulfillment,” Laura states. “By removing work-related fatigue, AI opens up new perspectives and provides new resources to do something else.” She believes this will allow people to get back to being interested in art and creative endeavors which benefits society as a whole, and will also free up time for people to care for their families. Laura imagines that when people can get back to the things they love and that bring them joy, less violence and inequality will exist in the world.
Laura believes getting more women to work in AI comes down to a matter of confidence. “Women are hesitant to enter rather masculine technical fields because of a lack of self-confidence. Women often have a reluctance that is not legitimate,” she said. Having inspiring role models is an important way to motivate younger generations to work in AI, and Laura believes that highlighting women and valuing those who are successful is a great way to start building confidence.
“I advise all women who wish to pursue a career in AI to get started without further delay. A career in AI does not mean you have to be an engineer or in a technical role. There are other less technical possibilities. Women can become: AI coach, i.e. train AI to behave as expected in terms of empathy, AI trainer to train employees to use AI or Chief Ethics Officer, whose responsibility is to ensure in the company that the AI used, internally or externally, responds well to ethical criteria.”