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ASU student works to change the face of AI for the future

Shalin Jyotishi was selected as one of just 50 young leaders from around the globe to attend this year’s World Economic Forum Davos Agenda

Shalin Jyotishi in Washington D.C.

Shalin Jyotishi in Washington, D.C. Photo by James Elias

April 13, 2021

For many people, their twenties are a decade of self-exploration. But not for Arizona State University graduate student Shalin Jyotishi. He is exploring nothing less than a future that unleashes the promise — but not the peril — of artificial intelligence for the next generation. 

Recently, his passion and ambition were on full display at one of the largest and most prestigious economic summits in the world, attended by global leaders such as Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Jyotishi was selected as one of just 50 young leaders from around the globe to attend this year’s World Economic Forum Davos Agenda. 

“For me, being in Zoom breakout rooms with world leaders was really humbling,” said Jyotishi, a member of the forum’s Global Shapers, a network of mission-driven achievers under 30 from around the world. 

“Global Shapers are committed to driving dialogue, action and change to improve the state of their local communities and the world,” he said. “It’s simultaneously a professional development program, a community and a recognition. It’s like the Forbes 30 Under 30, but it’s more inclusive and focused on social impact than achievements alone.”

A force for change

Jyotishi serves as a senior policy analyst at New America, a Washington, D.C., think tank, where he focuses on public problem-solving at the intersection of higher education, the workforce, innovation policy and emerging technologies. He is also pursuing a Master of Science degree in public interest technology in ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. The groundbreaking new program is designed to train leaders who will imagine, design and use technology — including artificial intelligence — for social good. 

“What drew me to the program is the flexibility, affordability, online format and the spirit of entrepreneurship within the School for the Future of Innovation in Society,” he said. “There is a willingness to work with students to co-design their experience. And I was also drawn to the fact that ASU is truly a place that evaluates success by whom they include and how they succeed.

"ASU does the important work of achieving at the highest possible level without sacrificing access. That’s the future of education — a future I’m interested in benefiting from and contributing to.” 

New voices in tech development

ASU’s public interest technology program is a perfect fit for Jyotishi, a co-founder of the AI Future Lab, born out of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community by a group of Global Shapers from San Francisco; Montreal; Brussels; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Amsterdam and beyond. 

“We are focused on AI in all aspects of society: the economy, education, health, climate and ethics. We are going to be organizing a number of projects this year, including a series of 'Davos Dialogues' — a 10-week sprint of intergenerational discussions in support of the World Economic Forum’s efforts to elevate youth voices in the COVID-19 recovery agenda,” he said. 

Jyotishi will be hosting his Davos Dialogue in partnership with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, focusing on improving job quality as AI enables automation and augmentation. Jyotishi is also supporting the World Economic Forum's research on human-centered AI for human resources, which seeks to empower employers to maximize the opportunity of AI while minimizing risks. 

“AI is going to impact every dimension of society and the economy in ways that I think are underestimated,” he said. “We are seeing AI find its way into toys, social media, hospitals and schools. If we’re not careful, we could face some repercussions of AI. We’ve seen it when it comes to privacy concerns in AI-enabled devices. So, the next generation is going to bear the brunt of the consequences, but also reap the benefits of AI. We’re interested in advancing responsible AI in a way that is transparent, equitable and effective.”  

The far-reaching scope and power of AI means that any racial, gender or other bias within its development can have disastrous results. For example, facial recognition software — used in law enforcement, airport passenger screening, and employment and housing decisions — have 34% higher error rates in identifying darker-skinned females than lighter-skinned males, according to one study.

“Giving those who don’t normally have a voice in the development of technology is a useful thing to do and worth the time, whether it’s people with disabilities, racial minorities, young people, veterans or people living in rural communities. I think it’s really important that we do a process we call public interest technology, or co-design, when it comes to AI, and that’s part of what I’m working on as a future of work and innovation policy researcher at New America, with the AI Future Lab and with the World Economic Forum,” Jyotishi said.

Fast track to professional success

Jyotishi has already emerged as a leader in many prestigious organizations. He serves on the advisory board of the MIT Science Policy Review and the International Development Council’s Higher Education Advisory Committee. He is a Foretell Ambassador board member of Georgetown University’s Center on Security and Emerging Technology, a University Innovation Fellow at Stanford University and a member of the U.S. Youth Working Group to the United Nations. He is also co-authoring a book on U.S. science policy that will be published by MIT Press in 2023. 

Jyotishi was recently appointed to the Generation Connect Visionaries Board of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union, alongside Princess Beatrice, Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter, and Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth. Jyotishi will advance youth-centered digital inclusion and skills development on the board.

What’s his secret sauce for success? 

“There’s this rule that I really like, it’s actually pasted on my wall. It’s called the 1% rule, which I picked up on from productivity coach Thomas Frank. It’s simple — just try to get better 1% at a time,” he said.

“There is another quote I really like, ‘Discipline is freedom.’ So, I do stay disciplined with my daily habits. I am a morning person. I wake up at 5 to 6 a.m., and I have a very regimented morning routine that allows me to stay grounded and sane. I set my intentions for the day, I journal, I exercise and I get some time outside, just a 10-minute walk. I avoid my phone for the first half hour, if I can, when I wake up. I always try to give myself that space in the mornings. And when it comes to my writing, I always focus on that in the morning and make sure that I do my deep work when the world is quiet and still before the busyness comes about.”

Starting each day off right empowers Jyotishi in his quest to bring a public-centered perspective to public policy.

“I am an evangelist for emergent voices, whether it’s in science and technology policy or education or the workforce,” he said. “Not simply because we’re young, but because every generation deserves a fair, proportional say.”

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