Smart Girl Stories
Maria Sukhareva
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Empowering Tomorrow: How One Woman Envisions a Future Simplified by AI

Empowering Tomorrow: How One Woman Envisions a Future Simplified by AI

Maria Sukhareva is a Senior Key Expert in Artificial Intelligence in Siemens with the focus on Natural Language Processing. She has a degree in Linguistics and Language Science and Technology and has been working in the field for over 15 years. 

She has spent a lot of her time as a researcher in Universities of Frankfurt and Darmstadt and has a track of scientific publications on AI topics. She loves technology and believes in the future when humans use AI to simplify their daily tasks. 

Let’s get to know Maria a little more…

Maria Sukhareva : Her Story Through Her Words

I grew up in Arkhangelsk, an arctic city located along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. Living in such an isolated area, where the average income is around $200, quickly made many aspirations seem far less attainable. The idea of traveling to Paris felt as unreachable as a trip to the moon, and the possibility of studying abroad or achieving significant success seemed entirely out of reach. As a child, my dream was to travel the world, speak multiple languages, and become a scientist, but even then, it was clear that reality had set a different path for me.

After graduating from high school, I managed to secure a scholarship to study linguistics at a local university. This was a considerable achievement, as the tuition fees, though no more than 2,000 euros a year, were beyond my family’s means. At my university, there was a DAAD representative promoting scholarships for study in Germany. I initially had no intention of applying, as there were only 40 scholarships available for Russia, but a friend convinced me to take a day off work and attend the information session. I’ve always dreamed of studying computational linguistics, working with machine translation, and merging linguistics with computer science. I applied for a scholarship at Saarland University to study language science and technology. Receiving the message that I was among the scholarship recipients remains one of the happiest moments of my life. I recall sitting on a 24-hour train from Moscow back to Arkhangelsk, crying tears of joy for the first and last time ever, as I was finally on what seemed like an impossible journey to the moon. Currently, I am a Senior Key Expert in Artificial Intelligence in Siemens, I have travelled to over 70 countries and I can speak four languages.

The Gender Wall and Reward

I think one of the greatest rewards of this journey is seeing the glass ceiling crack. Growing up in a deeply patriarchal society, where women were considered intellectually inferior to men, I saw how many girls had their wings clipped before they could even dream of flying. From a young age, we were taught the notion that girls cannot think logically, excel in math, and are too emotional.

In my leisure time, my guilty pleasure is spending time on social media, especially TikTok, because it’s fascinating to see how subsequent generations reject stereotypes, embrace diversity and inclusion. I believe we are moving in the right direction towards greater gender equality, and it’s incredibly rewarding to know that the next generation will likely face fewer barriers than we did. My personal experiences with gender inequality is hard to evaluate, partly because it’s hard to imagine how treatment might differ if I were a man. For example, a boss frequently undermined me in meetings, a disrespect that certainly wouldn’t have been tolerated if directed at male colleagues. As women, we are trained to avoid conflicts so I would just ignore this but it was making me feel very miserable at my worksplace. Self-doubt and anxiety crept in.

And I realised that  we need to trust our gut feeling—if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Women are a significant part of the workforce. If women stopped tolerating this kind of attitude and immediately began searching for a different position or addressing the issue otherwise, employers would face serious problems. I think it’s important to remember that we are hired as equals and should demand the same attitude, pay, and respect as our male colleagues.

Topics of gender equality is relevant for AI too, AI is a refection of our reality: it learned from the data we created. Just as we cannot blame a mirror for showing an unflattering image, we must recognize and address the issues it reveals. I advocate for using AI to expose harmful practices. For example, if an algorithm trained on HR data descriminates people of color, it signals a need to reevaluate human hiring processes.

A danger exists in the misconception that AI is objective and impartial as it could appear as if a supercomputer validates descriminatory practices. This highlights the importance of educating people about the essence of AI.

I’ve noticed that discussions on AI ethics tend to engage women more than men.  This difference likely arises from women’s direct experiences with bias in tech. 

The biases within models are deeply ingrained, and superficial fixes are not enough to remove them. As a senior key expert in AI, I aim to educate others on the inherent biases in technology and the ethical use of AI to counteract them.

I encourage viewing AI as a mirror to our society, critically assessing what it reflects, and applying AI knowledgeably.

Advocating for this perspective is challenging and often meets resistance from those who deny societal issues like the pay gap or claim men are disadvantaged in hiring processes. They insist the societal reflection is accurate and fair. Preparing for such pushback and arming oneself with solid arguments and references to external standards, like the EU’s AI Act, is a way to deal with this.

The Imposter Syndrome

I think the imposter syndrome is indeed something one never fully gets over, and self-doubt will always be present. I believe self-doubt is healthy. The opposite of imposter syndrome is the Dunning-Kruger effect, which occurs when a person knows so little about a field that they can’t even identify what they lack. So, whenever I experience particularly strong self-doubt, I remind myself that having no doubts and thinking I know everything would mean I am an actual imposter. The longer the list of things I need to learn and understand, the better the chances that I’m not.

Sacrifice and Regret

I think I’ve spent too much time and sacrificed happiness worrying about work and that is what I currently regret. When I was 19, I worked at an electronics store, selling TV sets, with the main goal being to sell additional warranties. Every sales assistant felt the pressure to sell those warranties, and I remember constantly being nervous about it, aiming to be the top seller. Eventually, as you might guess, I stopped selling TVs, and the number of warranties I sold turned out to be utterly irrelevant. Looking back, it’s amusing how stressed I was over those warranties. Later, as I began working in AI field, I encountered other forms of “warranties” — stressing over something, worrying, and then completely forgetting about it once I left the job. Since then, I’ve learned that you don’t need to sacrifice your mental well-being, peace of mind, and happiness for any job. The ultimate goal shouldn’t be to become the top performer but to aim for doing something you truly enjoy

What Could You Fix With A Magic Wand In Your World?

There are countless wishes one might have, such as ending violence, wars, and famine. Choosing just one is quite challenging. However, focusing on AI and gender equality, I’d like to use a magic wand to completely eradicate bias in an AI algorithm and achieve total gender equality and fairness. This algorithm would be trained on an environment where respect and opportunities are shared equally, with everyone’s input judged purely on its merits. Following this, I’d be eager to explore and analyze the system’s behavior under conditions of this absolute equality, which can probably only exists in philosophical theories. It would be like observing the reflection of a nonexistent world, attempting to envision what such a world could look like.

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