Updated Mar 19, 2024 - Technology

Exclusive: "We need aspirational AI," Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani says

Ina Fried (left) wearing a gray jacket sits across from Reshma Saujani (right) wearing a striped pink jacket speaking with hands outstretched. Behind them is a blue backdrop with AXIOS written in white.

Axios' Ina Fried (left) speaks to Reshma Saujani (right) at Axios' What's Next Summit on March 19. Photo: Ronald Flores for Axios

Moms First's Reshma Saujani wants Paidleave.ai to make it easier for families to claim time off as she seeks tangible ways for AI to improve lives, she told Axios' Ina Fried at the annual What's Next Summit in Washington, DC on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Saujani, who also founded Girls Who Code, said that in the 10 U.S. states that offer paid family leave, as few as 2% of people who are eligible take advantage. She's trying to change that.

  • "The government sucks at customer service, let's be real," she said. "It's like you want to make it tougher for me to get benefits."

Zoom out: Saujani said a lot of the conversations around AI surround the risk, rather than the questions of "how we use AI to solve really big problems."

  • "We need aspirational AI, not just ethical AI," she emphasized, noting that the introduction of new technologies in the past fostered inequality and sidelined women.
  • She warned that "we're about to make the same exact mistake with AI."
  • "By introducing fear, we're turning girls and people of color off," Saujani said, adding that "we already have a disparity in who has used ChatGPT and who hasn't."
  • The conversation should center around inspiring a generation to come up with different ideas like Paidleave.ai, she said, and "making sure that every single kid in America has a ChatGPT license so that they can actually create, build and innovate."

Zoom in: Moms First, a nonprofit started by Saujani, recently launched Paidleave.ai, which helps New Yorkers figure out if they're eligible for paid family leave and guides them through the application process.

  • The tool aims to to harness generative AI to navigate complicated bureaucracies and "gives you an action plan of what to do next," Saujani said.
  • Because of AI, it's available in all languages, which "makes it more inclusive and accessible to people," she said, adding that the tool also offers privacy protections.

The bottom line: "The reality is AI is only as good as we are," Saujani said.

  • Asked about the risks of technologies like Paidleave.ai being used to harm the same groups they're trying to serve, Saujani said: "The reality is ... it's here. And what I want to do is make sure that we don't replicate the past in freezing out voices that we need."

Go deeper: AI is helping new parents apply for paid leave

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