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Interview
Meet Grace Abuhamad, a Canadian representative for the IEC Young Professionals Workshop

February 11, 2021

Meet Grace Abuhamad, a Canadian representative for the IEC Young Professionals Workshop

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Interview
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Grace Abuhamad is a Research Program Manager, Trustworthy AI, at Element AI. She participates in mirror committee ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 42 Artificial Intelligence. Grace is also involved with the Canadian Data Governance Standardization Collaborative as Co-Chair of Working Group 4 – Data Analytics, Solutions, and Commercialization. She is one of two young professionals selected to represent Canada at the IEC Young Professionals Workshop at the IEC’s General Meeting this year.

 

Q.

What inspired you to get involved with SCC and IEC?

A.

Standards are a common language by which to engage globally on technical and otherwise complex issues. My first exposure to standards was through the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) when I was working for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). For the Internet to be its most valuable, it must be interoperable across borders. In my job, I tracked the internet networking standards development process, such as the transition from IPv4 to IPv6, and incorporated relevant standards into my projects. There are similar interests with AI development globally. In my current role, I help develop artificial intelligence standards through the ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 42, and at the national level with the CIO-Strategy Council and the Data Governance Standardization Collaborative (DGSC), for which I co-chair a working group on machine learning analytics.

 

Q.

How does standards development in the field of artificial intelligence support global efforts to create more gender-responsive standards?

A.

I come at this question for the bias and fairness realm. I’ll start by saying that gender bias is not new, nor is it unique to AI. However, as we train models based on past data, or even current data, we can encode gender biases that become harmful, especially when an algorithm is deployed at scale (for example, https://arxiv.org/abs/1607.06520).

Within ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 42, there are efforts underway to develop standards on bias detection and mitigation. This is one way in which AI standards development supports the global effort to create more gender-responsive standards as laid out in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Declaration for Gender Responsive-Standards.

 

Q.

Young professionals will shape the future of international standardization. What would you say to emerging experts who feel like only seasoned specialists can get involved in standardization activities?

A.

The standards space can feel daunting for many reasons: documents are long, processes can take months or years, there is a numbering scheme and acronym scheme, and many rules and procedures to follow. I am far from mastering any of these! Most of all, I’ve found the standards community very welcoming and open to mentorship (thank you to Paul Cotton who has patiently mentored me for over a year now!). It was important for me to understand the community that I worked with and served. I had good mentors who were passionate about standards development, so I eventually became passionate myself. Enthusiasm is contagious, as they say!

I would suggest diving in with some patience, time, and not being afraid to ask questions. Even if you don’t feel like an expert yet, some valuable contributions come from “simply” proof-reading and checking cross-references in documents.

 

Q.

What role do you think SCC will have in the standards world 50 years from now?

A.

SCC, in partnership with StatsCan and other parts of the Canadian government, is more advanced than other countries on data governance questions. At this rate, and with the data governance roadmap (soon to be released, see https://www.scc.ca/en/flagships/data-governance), I think SCC will be a world leader in data standards in 50 years (and likely sooner!).

Participation in international technical committees, such as ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 42, allows experts to shape standards that impact them. Find more opportunities to get involved in standardization activities.

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