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Home African CEOs Interviews Visionaries How Rediet Adebe, is Using AI to Change the Narrative of Inequality and Social Justice  
Visionaries - June 20, 2022

How Rediet Adebe, is Using AI to Change the Narrative of Inequality and Social Justice  

Rediet Adebe, is a computer scientist who uses her research to change how social media algorithms and other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies frequently discriminate against people from certain backgrounds.

Since 2010, Abebe’s research has focused on developing mathematical and computational frameworks for investigating inequality and distributive justice issues. 

The 29-year-old Ethiopian employs theoretical computer science techniques to assist in the development of algorithms and artificial intelligence systems that handle real-world challenges. 

She’s looked at how income shocks, such as losing a job or losing government benefits, might push people into poverty. With this in mind, she’s assessing how to better allocate government financial aid. 

Abebe is a co-founder of the organisation Black in AI – a community of Black AI researchers – and Mechanism Design for Social Good, which brings together researchers from other disciplines to address social issues.

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Early life and education 

Rediet Adebe was born and grew up in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. She attended Nazareth School, where she was taught how the Ethiopian schooling system works, before receiving a competitive merit-based scholarship to the International Community School of Addis Ababa for high school.

She was a high-scoring student in Ethiopia, and most students in this category are assigned to study medicine, which made Adebe panic because she wanted to study math.

“I was like 12 and super panicked that I might have to be a medical doctor instead of studying math, which is what I really wanted to do,” she said. 

This situation brought about the idea for Adebe to go schooling abroad. While she attended Harvard she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and a Master of Science degree in applied mathematics. 

As an undergraduate, she co-authored research papers in mathematics, physics, and public health. 

Education wasn’t over for Adebe when she was done with college. She furthered by attending the University of Cambridge as a Governor William Shirley Scholar at Pembroke College.

Her contributions to numerous domains in computer science have been largely recognised leading her dissertation to receive the 2020 ACM SIGKDD Dissertation Award and an honourable mention for the ACM SIGecom Dissertation Award. 

Among her many achievements, she is also the first Black woman in the history of the university to earn a Ph.D. in computer science. 

Dealing with Social Inequality in Ethiopia

The trigger for the Adebe’s research began while she was growing up in Ethiopia. Abede always tagged the country’s lack of resources for basic needs as a norm. 

Her argument was soon changed when she learnt about educational inequality in Cambridge’s public schools, which she noticed suffered in an environment of luxury.

She began attending Cambridge School board meetings in order to learn more. She got increasingly motivated to assist as she learned more about the schools. However, she wasn’t sure how that desire fit in with her ambition to work as a research mathematician.

To be more in line with her budding desire she soon changed her major to computer science at the  Cambridge University, which allowed her to combine her talent for arithmetic with her enthusiasm to address social issues such as prejudice, unfairness, and lack of opportunity. 

Adebe uses AI

After garnering her skills in computer science,Rediet Adebe has leveraged techniques to bridge the gap between those who create and deploy AI and those who use it.

“I see this gap in action every day. I was born and raised in Ethiopia…So I look out for AI research focused on helping the people of Ethiopia and the people of Africa more generally.”

Mechanism Design for Social Good

In 2016, Abebe and Kira Goldner co-founded the MD4SG research effort, a multi-disciplinary research collective that employs algorithms and mechanism design to combat inequality. 

MD4SG hosts an annual workshop series to promote research and connect the community of researchers working to increase social wellbeing through algorithms. 

She co-founded and served as the inaugural Program Co-Chair for the ACM Conference on Equity and Access in Algorithms, Mechanisms, and Optimization (EAAMO) in 2021.

Black in AI

In 2016, Abebe and Timnit Gebru co-founded Black in AI, a network of 1,500 AI researchers.

The group hosts annual workshops at the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) and provides chances for networking and collaboration.

 Abebe has led the Academic Programme through Black in AI, for which she was named on the Bloomberg’s 50 people to watch in 2019.

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