DCVC x Women in Robotics Event
By Kelly Chen 11.05.19
The news has been flooded over recent years with stories of homogeneous engineering organizations and inequality in technical roles at companies across Silicon Valley. A diverse ecosystem of experience and backgrounds is crucial to the ethical development of AI and robotics, and that’s why we’re so enthusiastic in our support of events focused on building these critical communities in technology. Earlier this week, DCVC partnered up with Andra Keay, Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics, to host a Women in Robotics event. Andra was joined on stage by women leaders at Vicarious AI and Kindred.ai, two DCVC portfolio companies we’re super proud to work with, for an entertaining discussion of cutting-edge research and a live Q&A on technical recruiting and retention.
Nan Rong, PhD and Robotics Lead at Vicarious, delivered an engaging presentation on distinction between the “old brain” driven by instincts and the “new brain” that reasons. She gave an old brain example by showing a video of baby ducks following a mother dog since birth, showing how stimulus leads to responses without any previous model of the world. The new brain is driven by a cause and effect model of the world, requiring low amount of training data with much more reliance on generalization. There has been critical research since 2017 around task learning, perception, and visual reasoning. Nan went on to show two side by side examples of the computer game Pong, one as a schema network and the other a neural network. Sure enough, when certain inputs change, like brightness or a middle wall, the model that can generalize by learning a conceptual representation of the game will win.
Following Nan’s presentation, Eyrun Eyjolfsdottir, PhD and Computervision lead at Vicarious, explained the significance of work she’s leading at the company on the Recursive Cortical Network (RCN). It mimics how the brain works, allowing for higher accuracy with many orders of magnitude less training data. All of this allows Vicarious to take maximum advantage of the below trend in labor costs vs robot prices, where they are working on real world automation.
Finally, Brianna Swanson, Head of People at Kindred.ai, talked to the group about hiring diverse talent in technical firms. Kindred.ai is a robotics company with over 100 employees, and in her role at the company, Brianna is responsible for understanding the importance of retaining those talented individuals and crafting the strategy to prioritize it through investments in the company’s culture and in mentorship throughout its ranks. The session concluded with lively Q&A ranging from how to increase top of funnel, where only 13% of engineers are women, to international policies that work for retaining women with families to personal experiences at different firms.
We’re honored to have had the opportunity to host this event in our new office in Palo Alto. Supporting women as they make new breakthroughs in the development of robotics is not only good for ensuring diversity within Silicon Valley, it’s also smart business. We’re incredibly proud to have women leaders like Nan, Eyrun and Brianna within the extended DCVC family and to work with amazing people like Andra, who co-hosted this incredible event with Silicon Valley Robotics. Thank you so much to everyone who joined us – we hope you were inspired to do even bigger and bolder things in robotics. Until next time!