The 25th Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing (GHC) was held in Orlando beginning October. As a regular participant at this women-focused gathering over the past 5 years, the growth of the organization I have witnessed is amazing. The over 26,000 attendees at this year’s conference far surpassed the 500 hundred attendees 25 years ago, which is particularly impressive given that the number of women in technology is decreasing.

Brenda Darden Wilkerson, the CEO of Anita.org, the organizer of the conference, opened the conference describing the organization’s goal as 50/50 gender equity in technology by 2025, improving gender equity in pay, hiring, retention, venture funding, and empowerment — all key areas where currently women-in-technology experience the greatest disparities. The attendees whole heartily endorsed this! Brenda talked about increasing female visibility in technology so that Katherine Johnson (whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the U.S. crewed spaceflights) is as well known as Neil Armstrong. She encouraged attendees to create the technology world they want to see as part of their environment: at work, home, play, everywhere!

With over 26,000 attendees, 200+ vendors at the career fair and up to 9 parallel sessions over 3 days, it was a busy conference. Sessions ranged from in-depth research in machine learning to advancing attendees’ careers.

One of the sessions I attended was given by Gokila Dorai, with an interesting title: “I Know What You Did Last Summer: Your Smart Home Internet of Things and Your iPhone Forensically Ratting You Out”. She described how data collected from devices such as a Fitbit or Alexa are most of the time admissible in court. At a minimum the data can be used to get a timeline of events. Using a forensic tool, (the Forensic Evidence Acquisition and Analysis System (FEAAS)) that consolidates evidentiary data into a readable report which can infer user events (like entering or leaving a home) and what triggered an event (whether it was the Google Assistant through a voice command, or the use of an iPhone application). Such information can be used for many benefits but also not so beneficial purposes to the person being tracked such as following an individual’s activities.

Another session should have been called Technology Is Not Always The Best Answer. The speakers were tasked to design an interface to Alexa that would facilitate paying utility bills using Alexa. According to Nielsen, 46% of US adults use voice assistant devices. With that large of a customer base, many companies are experimenting with ways to leverage this technology to reach their customers. But in this example, when the project designers talked to some of the utility’s customers, the feedback was that they didn’t trust Alexa’s security and would not pay the utility bills using Alexa.

Business people from both Macy’s and Nordstrom talked about how they use AI to assist customers. Macy’s uses it for preseason planning and in seasonal response (eg pending snowstorm) as most of Macy’s inventory of fashion products are one-time merchandise which was never sold before and will never sell again.  Nordstrom uses AI to help customers find “your best look”.  With the ever-changing consumer interests, the recommendations strategy could be based on one or more factors: trending looks; the latest new looks, most liked looks and others. The speaker described the “bright conference look” as one the “looks” which is fashionable and business-like.  She demonstrated on the online app showing the various parts of the recommended outfit and the cost associated with each item. And then the speaker highlighted that was the look she put together and was wearing.

I can see a lot of use for the app, especially when ordering clothes online since it gives the total look and cost.  My only hesitancy with apps like this is how data they retain about me and my preferences can be used by anyone, for any reason and without my knowledge.

The Grace Hopper Conference is an amazing opportunity to learn, network and strive for getting more women in the technology field.  It showed once again that the IT field is not just for men and that women can make a difference.

 

 

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