July 19, 2024
Dar'shun Kendrick

To give AI-focused women academics and others their well-deserved — and overdue — time in the spotlight, TechCrunch has been publishing a series of interviews focused on remarkable women who’ve contributed to the AI revolution. We’re publishing these pieces throughout the year as the AI boom continues, highlighting key work that often goes unrecognized. Read more profiles here.

Dar’shun Kendrick is a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, a position she was elected to at the age of 27 in 2010. She has a storied career in policy, equity and technology, including the Small Business Development and Jobs Creation Committee and the Technology and Infrastructure Committee, where she is involved in its Artificial Intelligence subcommittee. She’s also worked with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ Telecommunications, Science, and Technology Committee, and in 2019, she created the Georgia House of Representative’s first Technology, Innovation & Entrepreneurship bipartisan caucus.

Kendrick attended Oglethorpe University and received her law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. She is an attorney and, in 2017, opened a law and investment advisory firm to help women and Black founders learn more about raising capital.

Briefly, how did you get your start in AI? What attracted you to the field?

I got my start in AI from broadly being involved in tech. I am a securities attorney, so I help founders nationwide raise billions in private investment capital as well as advise VC funds. So because of the work that I do for my “day job,” I am always hearing about and being involved in capital raises with the latest technology.

I was attracted and still am attracted to AI because of how interesting it is as a policymaker to balance making life easier for people with making sure machine learning doesn’t disrupt our democracy and what makes us human. As an attorney, I am interested in it also because VCs and founders in the AI space seem to be bucking the latest trends of not raising as much investor capital as other subsets of tech. I don’t have an idea as to why that is necessary, and that’s what makes it fascinating.

What work are you most proud of in the AI field?

This last legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly, I was on a small AI subcommittee that passed legislation around the upcoming election and “deepfakes” made by political campaigns to sway elections.

It’s just a start, but I am proud that the state of Georgia has started to have those conversations. Government tends to be so many years behind in catching up with emerging technology, so I am happy we are getting started taking a look at everything surrounding AI — particularly generative AI.

How do you navigate the challenges of the male-dominated tech industry and, by extension, the male-dominated AI industry?

Show up. I show up in spaces that these otherwise male-dominated industries don’t expect to see me — events, conferences, discussions, etc. It’s the same way I was able to break into the male-dominated venture capital industry: just showing up knowing what I am talking about and providing something of value the industry needs.

What advice would you give to women seeking to enter the AI field?

Produce. Women are used to multitasking. That’s one of the best uses of generative and applied AI, in my opinion. So I know women can produce a new AI product to make lives easier because we are the ones that need it. You don’t need to develop the product — you just need to be a visionary. Someone else can build it. Show up. There are only so many spaces we can be kept out of. Continue to learn. Technology changes so fast. You want to be able to provide value when you get the opportunity and as you enter into this space, so — listen to YouTube and sign up for an email blast of someone talking about this space.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing AI as it evolves?

Fraud. Whenever there is a new technology, someone is sneaky and crafty enough to figure out a way to use it for evil. Particularly because it’s AI, the most vulnerable communities, like the elderly and immigrant populations, will be targets. Privacy. Story as old as time and it continues with AI. As you feed the AI machine more information about yourself, the better it becomes.

The downside is now it knows and stores a lot of information about you. Data breaches happen all the time. Hacking is a thing. So it’s a concern. Small business adaption. The government, the legal field, financials services. All these industries tend to be more conservative and slower to adapt to new technologies. But in this fast-paced world, being slow to use AI is a recipe for failure as a small business. Government and corporate partners need to find a way to retool businesses to respond to the changing tech and business development landscape that comes from AI.

What are some issues AI users should be aware of?

You have to second-guess everything now because of fraud and you need to be picky in the information that you share with AI platforms. In addition, users should know, per usual, that AI technology is only as savvy as the inputs from humans. So there is still the possibility of discrimination — think of AI in job applications — that can come from its use.

What is the best way to responsibly build AI?

Come up with a written ethics framework of “DOs and DO NOTs” that focuses on privacy, data security, anti-fraud measures, and constant reassessment of discriminatory problems with the system. Write down this ethics framework, share it with the team, and stick to it.

How can investors better push for responsible AI?

[See above] and with responsibility check-ins. Particularly, companies that claim to be focused on ESG [environmental, social, and governance] hold them accountable by asking the right questions, requiring a written ethics plan, and setting in place metrics to truly boast of being an ESG investment.

What all of us — the government, the private sector, and individuals — have to do is find rather quickly where the balance is between innovation, which I love as a trademark of America, with rights — right to privacy, right to liberty, right to due process and nondiscrimination. The sooner we understand that balance and act, the better we will be as a country and world.

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