Fran Berman visited the Seidenberg Lounge in NYC on April 9th to discuss self-driving cars, data stewardship, and her latest projects on the social and environmental impacts of IoT. She spent time with the student-led Pace Women in Tech club, then sat in conversation with Professor Cathy Dwyer.
Fran Berman is an Edward P. Hamilton Distinguished Professor in Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, and a Fellow of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.
Fran discussed her latest project which focuses on the social and environmental impacts of IoT. Her focus is on maximizing the benefits of IoT while minimizing risks. The most talked about point was the ethical structure of IoT.
Fran also took the time to explain data stewardship: “[data stewardship] is about creating a home for data that both takes care of it now and takes care of it in the future.”
The distinguished professor’s latest passion is IoT’s potential inflience on cyber/physical-biological systems. She explained that the intersection of the subjects, with the addition of artificial intelligence, is “both an amazing thing and a scary thing.”
Fran illustrated her point using self-driving cars and the ethical thought process behind them. She made the point that a self-driving car has to make the same decisions humans must make while driving, including what to do in instances of an imminent collision.
“Each one of us has an ethical framework,” she said, suggesting that one day perhaps self-driving cars (as an example) would be programmed to make decisions based on the individual’s moral configuration rather than a standardization. IoT could make this possible.
Fran also identified some of the largest issues that graduates will encounter in their careers: industries are not turning to technologists to be leaders, and women are challenged when finding their place in the technology industry. But if Fran can do it, so can any female computer scientist—she’s a living example of female leadership in the technology industry.
As for what the future of technology looks like, “hopefully this is what it looks like,” Fran stated, indicating the many female students in the audience.
One piece of advice Fran offered was the importance of getting involved. It’s a huge learning opportunity—one that students can truly benefit from.
“If you have clubs here, become an officer of the club,” Fran advised. Becoming a club officer is a notable accomplishment. If you’re excited about something, then you should get involved with it.
“Waking up every day and feeling really excited about what you do . . . that’s another super important thing,” Fran added.
One of the most significant things Fran spoke about was the concept of failure as a good thing. Failure, Fran suggested, is just a part of the process of life. If you mess up, then that’s how you end up figuring out how to do it better the next time. Failure is expected and should be celebrated!
As an example, Fran spoke about her first job. “When I first got there, I had no idea how to do all the stuff I was supposed to do.”
“If you don’t keep at it, you’re never going to figure it out.”
The biggest piece of advice that Fran focused on was a single word: resilience. She outlined the ways that resilience makes a great leader.
“At the end of the day, don’t give up. Find your own heart and passion in it, find a network of people who can go through it with you and support you, be strategic, and be resilient,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but if it’s important to you it’s always worthwhile.”
As for Fran’s time at Seidenberg, she only had good words: “I had a blast. I think everyone here is wonderful.”
We were so lucky to have Fran at the Seidenberg Lounge for this intriguing and empowering discussion. We would like to thank Fran for taking the time to visit our campus for the WiT event.
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