"Tech leaders ought to study the humanities"

Maëlle Gavet, Sciences Po alumna, was awarded the 2019 alumni award from the Sciences Po American Foundation. Gavet graduated from Sciences Po in 2002, and today is the Chief Operating Officer of Compass, a real estate technology company building an end-to-end platform for agents and their clients.

In her acceptance speech, Gavet surveyed the challenges facing the tech industry, a field in which she has 15 years of professional experience. She argued that while technology has unquestionably improved almost every aspect of the way we live and work, it has had a host lethal side effects and unintended consequences impacting their own employees, communities, other businesses and, last but not least, democracy. Gavet’s suggested solution is to reimagine the way tech leaders are educated. In her opinion, while humanities will not magically fix everything that’s wrong with tech, it can certainly help introduce the much needed empathy and understanding of the world. "We need engineers who can both code and read the Economist. We need engineers obsessed with transforming society (not moving fast and breaking it)," she said. We followed up with Gavet after her speech for a quick interview about the themes that she addressed and tips for recent Sciences Po graduates.

You painted a bleak picture of where the tech industry is headed if it doesn’t hire people with a background in the social sciences and the humanities. How likely is it that tech executives get it right and steer us away from the path we’re on now?

This is a very difficult question; whether or not we figure it out, it will have an impact on what kind of society we live in. If I knew the answer, I’d probably have a very different job from the one I currently have. What I can say though, is that I think there is an increased awareness, and while my speech was very direct, this is not the first time I’m talking about it, and this is not the first time I’m hearing people discuss it. This subject has definitely been gaining more and more visibility compared to previous years.
 
The second thing I do start seeing is that because of these conversations more and more tech leaders are trying to take action. The problem is that they’re still a minority. It’s not a small group, but it’s still a minority. Another challenge is that there’s no playbook with clear guidelines on what to do. I’m generally pretty optimistic and I do believe that when human beings focus on solving a problem, they generally do get there. But this is a very, very big and completely new problem, which we have never faced before.

You’ve written before about regulating AI. What would that regulation look like ideally?

I think right now we’re trying to figure out how to regulate the humans who are working on AI the same way we tried, more or less successfully, to regulate genetic experiments. And I say more or less successfully because, in the Western world, we have, to an extent, limited what can and cannot be done and we have designed certain ethical standards around it. Based on what I have seen and read, I am not convinced the same ethical standards have been applied to genetic research in China, for example. The challenge with AI is how do we regulate something that is going to end up being more intelligent than us.
 
AI is the equivalent of a one year old who doesn’t know how to speak and barely knows how to walk. And we have researchers admitting they are not entirely clear how their AI baby came up with the result it did. Now imagine what happens when the baby grows up.  It will be a completely different situation. That’s why we need to make sure that people working on AI fully assume social responsibilities this discipline carries and embrace intellectual, geographic and social diversity while establishing industry standards. AI — in a very, very, very simplified way —  is nothing more than a set of equations and hypotheses that are formulated by humans. The more biased the human, the more bias is input into their code. So we need to advocate for creating forcing mechanisms for the diverse and multidisciplinary approach in AI, and in tech in general.

How has your education at Sciences Po prepared you for your career?

I think that Sciences Po is great at training students to analyze problems, find facts, historical data to support their point of view, and then to effectively communicate it. This is a universal skill that is crucially  important on top of everything else that I mentioned during my speech (firm foundation and a deeper understanding of society, historical processes, macro and microeconomics).

What kind of advice do you have for young graduates and current students starting their careers?

You have to remember that you work with people and for people. When you make decisions, when you work on a project, when you run a company, when you’re an entrepreneur, when you work within a company, you will be more successful if you collaborate without ego and think about the human impact, the human stakeholders affected by the things that you’re trying to do.
 
The second advice: dream big. Our dreams can limit us. If you dream small, you’re going to do small. If you dream big, there’s a chance you’re going to do big. We have a tendency, especially coming from a school like Sciences Po (known for combining approaches and confronting different worldviews), to carry the weight of history on our shoulders, to think about all the reasons that something can or cannot happen. But at some point you risk not reaching your full potential. You can’t really impact the world if you don’t try to dream bigger than you ever thought was possible.
 
You should always combine these two things. Remember that you are, after all, a social being, and that you should try to work with other human beings and be part of this society. I guess another way to say it is that culture is very important. And by culture I mean the company culture which promotes inclusion, diversity and is empathetic. Don’t think that success is only related to IQ; it is at least 60 percent, if not more, related to EQ.

Learn more 

Subscribe to News from Sciences Po

 
Lifting the barriers to female entrepreneurship

Lifting the barriers to female entrepreneurship

Whether setting up a new business, negotiating a pay rise or taking on more responsibility in the workplace, women can be supported in reaching leadership positions. As of 2018, Sciences Po's Women in Business Chair aims to improve understanding of the obstacles women face and spearhead action to remove them. Interview with Anne Boring, researcher in charge of the Chair. Anne’s work focuses on the analysis of gender inequalities in the professional world.

More
Mary Robinson’s 3 Steps to Tackle Climate Change

Mary Robinson’s 3 Steps to Tackle Climate Change

Mary Robinson, now President of the Elders and climate justice activist, was the seventh President of Ireland, and the first woman ever to hold this office. She also served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002 and as Chancellor of the Trinity College Dublin for twenty years. In June 2019, she was the guest of honour at the Paris School of International Affairs’ graduation ceremony. In her talk, she gives graduates 3 key steps to do their part in the fight against climate change. Watch the video to find out what they are.

More
U7+ Alliance: A University Alliance To Weigh in on the G7 Agenda

U7+ Alliance: A University Alliance To Weigh in on the G7 Agenda

Under the high patronage of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, the first annual U7+ Alliance Summit took place at Sciences Po on July 9 & 10, 2019, with 47 university leaders from 18 countries. The purpose of the summit was to formalise and vote on a series of founding principles for the U7+ Alliance, and for universities to commit to associated concrete actions to tackle global issues, within their own communities, in the context of the upcoming G7 Summit in Biarritz in August 2019.

More
Blended Learning: Focus of the 2019 International Teaching and Learning Workshop

Blended Learning: Focus of the 2019 International Teaching and Learning Workshop

This June 2019, Sciences Po hosted the second annual Teaching and Learning Workshop with our global university partners to discuss, debate and share research and methods on the latest innovations in education. This year, the focus was "Blended Learning and Educational Impact," with participants from Harvard University, the National University of Singapore, the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne, LSE, King's College London, the African Leadership University, and more.

More
Highlights of the 2019 Graduation Ceremonies

Highlights of the 2019 Graduation Ceremonies

Over 7,300 people attended the four graduation ceremonies of the Class of 2019 on June 28 & 29, 2019. Graduates walked under the proud gaze of their parents, friends, teachers, companions, and sometimes children to receive their diploma. Relive these unforgettable moments in video.

More
2019 Graduation: Who Are Our Graduates?

2019 Graduation: Who Are Our Graduates?

Bright and engaged citizens. Promising futures. Inspiring guests and motivational speeches. Parents brimming with pride. On Friday, 28th of June and Saturday, 29th of June 2019, the Sciences Po graduation ceremonies brought together over 2,500 graduates and their guests at the Philarmonie in Paris. So who are the graduates of the Class of 2019? More