Our Voices

Charting The Course: In Conversation With Dr. Vivienne Ming, Founder & Executive Chair Of Socos Labs

Dr. Vivienne Ming believes there are two dominant views regarding the powerful ascendance of artificial intelligence. One view is held by the “accelerationists,” who believe AI will solve every problem, give humans more time to pursue their interests, and save the planet. Conversely, the “doomers” believe that AI will destroy everything.

Dr. Ming, Founder and Executive Chair of Socos Labs and a member of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights board of directors, doesn’t fall into either camp. “It’s not magic,” Dr. Ming said. “It’s not the end of the world. It’s an immensely powerful tool, which we can make the choice to use well and make our lives better.”

In a virtual conversation hosted by Fanta NGom, RFK Director of the Business and Human Rights Department, Dr. Ming shared that AI can help humanity in many powerful ways, ranging from improving health research and creating better patient outcomes, to serving as a tool to reunite refugee families, to helping autistic children learn how to read facial expressions.

With 25 years of experience in AI, including using AI and machine learning in six different companies that she founded, Dr. Ming says the possibilities for AI are endless. But so too are the perils.

“I believe that this can be a tool to bring societal good into the world,” Dr. Ming said. “But again and again, I end up with the question of, for whom?”

The large language models being built by OpenAI, Google, and other technology giants are consolidating the power of AI to a small group of decision makers who are creating powerful tools that can be used to make judgments about employment, healthcare, legal cases, and much more.

“Access to artificial intelligence, acting unambiguously on your behalf, should be a civil right,” Dr. Ming said. “Just like access to a lawyer or a doctor.”

Dr. Ming said one major concern regarding AI is the issue of bias, which she said is impossible to get rid of. ChatGPT and other large language models are ultimately a reflection of history. These AI models are asked to make judgments based on a world that is stratified and unequal.

She cited a recent example this month of a report published in March that found OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini models hold racist stereotypes about speakers of African American Vernacular English. The models were significantly more likely to assign those speakers to lower-paying jobs, according to research published by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

“[The AI] is a reflection of the society it is trained on,” Dr. Ming said. “It is inescapable. But how do we still find value in a tool which is imperfect?” Dr. Ming said the teams that build AI must be more diverse, rather than just six large companies from only two nations. “It only works if everyone gets to participate,” Dr. Ming said.

Research shows that around one-fifth of U.S. workers are in roles that have high exposure to AI, meaning the work they do today could become replaced or greatly assisted by AI. While some academics liken this disruption to past technology advancements like the Industrial Revolution or the creation of the internet, the automation from AI is different because it is cognitive, Dr. Ming said. With every leap that AI makes, humans have to be that much smarter to provide value to the business world.

“In the end, in a world with AI and cognitive automation, the most valuable thing that you can bring to the labor market isn’t that you can write code, and it isn’t that you can write contracts,” Dr. Ming said. “Humans don’t win those battles. So what is your value add in the world? It is you and your ability to explore the unknown and say something unique about it. That’s not really what AI can do, because AI is history.”

Vivienne Ming

Frequently featured for her research and inventions in The Financial Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Quartz and the New York Times, Dr. Vivienne Ming is a theoretical neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and author. She co-founded Socos Labs, her fifth company, an independent institute exploring the future of human potential. Dr. Ming launched Socos Labs to combine her varied work with that of other creative experts and expand their impact on global policy issues, both inside companies and throughout our communities. Previously, Vivienne was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, pursuing her research in cognitive neuroprosthetics. In her free time, Vivienne has invented AI systems to help treat her diabetic son, predict manic episodes in bipolar sufferers weeks in advance, and reunited orphan refugees with extended family members. She sits on boards of numerous companies and nonprofits including StartOut, The Palm Center, Cornerstone Capital, Platypus Institute, Shiftgig, Zoic Capital, and HUMM. Dr. Ming also speaks frequently on her AI-driven research into inclusion and gender in business. For relaxation, she is a wife and mother of two.