When working in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field, Kathryn Hume ’02 believes that it is imperative to develop skills in philosophy and ethics. Hume is currently the head of product and business development at the research laboratory Borealis AI and has done extensive teaching and speaking on the role of ethics in artificial intelligence (AI). On Thursday, October 10, Hume spoke about machine learning and career advice at a Girls in STEM club meeting. She is the inaugural speaker in this year’s Women in STEM Speaker Series, which is funded by an Abbot Academy grant.
Hume noted how vulnerable programming and software engineering can be to unfair biases. She emphasized the role of the people behind programs and explained how posing ethical questions can be crucial to STEM fields.
“The key things [in] computer science, engineering, math and statistics…are philosophy and ethics, especially when we’re using data that relates to patterns in society. Say you’re going to be using a pattern to predict if somebody deserves a loan or a mortgage… and it learned that people from certain ethnic backgrounds are less likely to repay their loans. Suddenly you’ve built a system that it discriminatory against certain people. You don’t want that to happen,” said Hume in her talk.
In addition to her work, Hume’s talk focused on the fluidity of her direction in life, starting with her Andover education and continuing beyond college. While Hume’s early inclination towards STEM fields may have been expected, she explained that her junior year of college at the University of Chicago was instrumental in changing major aspects of her direction in life.
“I graduated from Andover in 2002. [There], I focused a lot on math and science like AP Physics and Organic Chemistry… and I went to college as a science and math major. But [Upper] year I went to Paris… I took literature, film, and philosophy. I got back, and I was like, ‘I really like this stuff.’ I don’t feel like doing my complex analysis homework. I want to do other stuff,” said Hume.
“I ended up graduating from [University of Chicago] where I did my undergrad in a major of Comparative Literature, which is basically learning lots of languages and working in the literature between different countries, and a minor in math,” she said.
Hume encouraged students to embrace uncertainty in their professional lives as well. She pointed to her own life and explained how her career direction has shifted multiple times after graduating from Andover.
“I went to graduate school at Stanford, and I decided to focus on comparative literature… I decided I didn’t want to go into academia…I thought I was making this huge shift from academia to business and that I would never teach again…A mere two years after, I got a call from a university asking me if I would join their law department as an adjunct law professor, because I had learned so much doing that marketing specialist job at a legal software company that I was recognized as an expert,” said Hume.
“They invited me to teach a course, and I taught there for a couple of years…Currently, I lead all of the product development efforts for the machine learning research lab for the largest bank in Canada… [and] I have a blog, and I like to teach. It’s totally impossible to predict your future, but that’s what special about being a human… You can’t plan it. That’s why it’s wonderful,” she continued.
According to attendee Jeremy Zhou ’21, Hume assuaged some of his worries regarding his own future occupation.
“I like getting life advice, because I’m in this stage in my life where I’m like ‘’I don’t know what to do.’ Getting feedback from someone who’s already gone through this whole process [makes me] have a better idea about what to do… I wrote down the things she said [about majors and careers]. I’m still not sure where I’m going, but I now feel like it’s definitely worth figuring out,” said Zhou. .
Josphine Manson ’22, a member of Girls in STEM, enjoyed Hume’s personal reflections, which allowed Manson to have a deeper understanding of what Hume was saying.
“I thought what she was talking about, [computer science] and how she was so interdisciplinary in her learning, was very interesting…I really enjoyed when she discussed her own journey and how you don’t have to be certain in what you’re learning and how going into different areas of learning can be very beneficial for you and seeing things in a new perspective,” said Manson.
Hume’s talk will be followed by Natasha George, founder and CEO of the Somerville Electric Vehicle company, who is scheduled to speak on January 27.
“Our idea for the speaker series was to have three different speakers in three different fields of STEM. We wanted to have someone who was an expert in computer science and machine learning, someone who’s working in STEM and entrepreneurship, and someone who’s working in medicine. We were actually really fortunate to have someone on the Abbot Grant community connect us to Dr. Hume,” said Emily Qiu ’20, a member of the Girls in STEM Club and an event organizer.
Editor’s Note: Jeremy Zhou is an Associate Graphic Design Editor at The Phillipian.