Championing Responsible AI Initiatives Through Ethical Leadership

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Heather Domin‘s professional journey seamlessly aligns with IBM‘s ethos of excellence and responsibility in the technology sector. Heather was drawn to IBM’s renowned reputation as a trusted technology leader, built on a foundation of innovation and ethical practices. Now, as the Global Leader for Responsible AI Initiatives, Heather embodies these values, epitomizing excellence within the company.

With a fervent belief in technology’s potential for societal good, Heather’s journey into the world of responsible technology began long before she undertook her current role as a Global Leader for Responsible AI Initiatives at IBM.

During her academic pursuits, Heather delved deep into the realms of emerging technology, for example exploring the intricacies of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and its implications on trust within businesses and society. This early fascination laid the groundwork for her enduring commitment to responsible technology.

However, it was more recent events that further deepened Heather’s dedication to the ethical dimensions of AI. “For example, learning of disparities in AI performance across demographic groups and hearing of troubling instances of facial recognition misuse,” Heather recognized the urgent need for comprehensive safeguards. This pivotal moment spurred her to focus her PhD research on the ethics of facial recognition technology, aiming to dissect concerns and identify  viable solutions.

Driving Responsible AI

Heather directs and advises on global strategic responsible AI initiatives within the IBM Office of Privacy and Responsible Technology. She plays a pivotal role in building subject and technical expertise while working with partners to further IBM’s position as an industry thought leader.

My focus is on driving responsible AI initiatives both externally and internally,” she emphasizes. “Together, we’re advancing IBM’s commitment to providing trusted technology, such as the IBM watsonx platform,” she adds.

Principled Foundations

I believe foundational practices should always be tied to company principles,” Heather emphasizes. “At IBM, our Trust and Transparency principles and pillars of Explainability, Fairness, Robustness, Transparency, and Privacy guide our practices,” she explains.

In developing and executing foundational practices, senior leadership support and networks from each of the company’s business units are critical to success. It takes many people and different types of expertise to successfully put principles into practice.

My approach to the development and execution of foundational practices in AI ethics within Privacy and Responsible Technology could best be described as principle-based and collaborative,” Heather shares. “This work cannot be done alone, and I’m truly fortunate to have had the pleasure of working with many talented and passionate individuals,” she reflects.

Tech Ethics in Action

One of the most exciting parts about working on emerging technologies and practices is that they can provide a tremendous opportunity for improved human well-being, productivity, and economic growth. Heather explains that with the speed at which technology is evolving, it’s critical to stay connected with a wide range of stakeholders within the tech industry and broader society.

I have had the privilege of playing a leadership role and contributing to groups like the Data & Trust Alliance User Group for Algorithmic Bias Safeguards for Workforce,” Heather continues. “Additionally, I have contributed to initiatives such as the NIST Generative AI Public Working Group and the Ohio State University Program on Data and Governance’s Expert Group on Responsible AI Management,” she adds.

In her role as Associate Director for the Notre Dame—IBM Tech Ethics Lab, Heather establishes collaborative research addressing tech ethics areas like AI risk scoring and return on investment in AI ethics and governance. “I also serve as a World Economic Forum Fellow, focusing on generative AI research,” she notes. “Recently, I joined the International Association of Privacy Professionals AIGP Exam Development Board to help guide the certification of professionals in AI governance,” Heather states. She affirms that all these efforts aim to positively influence the broader technology industry and society.

Achieving Balance

Balancing academic pursuits, professional certifications, and leadership roles, focus and prioritization are crucial. Taking action early helps avoid being overwhelmed by multiple deadlines. For instance, completing certification renewal requirements ahead of schedule rather than waiting until the last minute.

Heather shares, “My sense of balance stems from my passion for my work and my gratitude for life’s blessings. I believe in giving back and contributing where I can. I also have a love for learning, whether it’s through reading, writing, researching, or engaging with others.”

Since she genuinely enjoys what she does, it doesn’t feel like work—it feels like fun. This perspective greatly aids in maintaining balance. Moreover, Heather prioritizes faith, relationships and health to ensure a well-rounded life.

The Role of Advocacy

In navigating the complexities of technology, understanding its benefits and risks is essential. Heather emphasizes that a clear explanation of the benefits and potential concerns, accompanied by examples can be helpful in gaining buy-in and agreement to take action. This holds true for both external and internal advocacy efforts.

External advocacy involves engaging with diverse stakeholders, each bringing valuable experiences and perspectives. Heather notes, “Open and honest dialogue in working groups and other forums can help deepen a broader understanding of issues.” Similarly, internal understanding is crucial. Heather explains that new team members often require education and open discussion to comprehend the importance of performing their roles.

Moreover, business decision-makers require evidence and understanding. Heather shares, “I’ve worked to ensure corporate-level policy updates reflect current requirements and published research on how organizations can justify investments in AI ethics and governance.” This concerted effort helps to ensure alignment with evolving needs and fosters informed decision-making.

The Imperative for Industry and Government

Heather emphasizes the importance of continued focus from industry and government leaders on embracing technology’s benefits while enhancing human well-being and achieving sustainability goals. “Initiatives in research, open resources, common standards, institutional guardrails, and education are crucial,” she notes.

Contributing to these initiatives and shaping the technology landscape and governance to maximize benefits and reduce risks feels like personal success to Heather. “By actively engaging in these areas, we can strive towards a future where technology serves society in the best possible way,” she states.

Perspective and Perseverance

Maintaining perspective is crucial, notes Heather, emphasizing the significance of keeping the bigger picture and a long-term view during momentary challenges. “Patience is key—patience with people and patience with the process of change,” she adds. Reflecting on the progress made serves as motivation to persevere. “Progress is possible, and witnessing it daily inspires me,” Heather shares.

She finds inspiration in her colleagues who tackle significant technology ethics issues. “Knowing that I am not alone and that our collective efforts will lead to a better future for us all keeps me driven,” she expresses.

Leading with Integrity

For aspiring leaders passionate about promoting ethical practices in AI and technology, Heather recommends seeking areas where leadership is needed. “If you see a problem that needs to be solved and think you can help, see how you can get involved,” she advises. Starting small is perfectly acceptable, as most endeavors do. “We all have unique gifts to contribute, and the world needs yours. You can make a difference,” Heather emphasizes.

Cultivating a growth mindset and seeking out learning opportunities are crucial. For instance, leveraging resources like IBM SkillsBuild for AI and AI ethics credentials can be valuable. “Pursuing certifications like the IAPP AI Governance Professional Certification can also pave the way,” Heather suggests. Additionally, finding mentors and like-minded peers for support is essential in fostering personal and professional growth. “In any area we wish to grow, support is crucial,” Heather concludes.

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