I’ve always thought that how you treat those who are powerless shows your true character. People rarely mistreat others who have power over them -- for example, their boss — because they might suffer adverse consequences. But when you encounter someone whom you can either push down or lift up, with no risk of harm or possibility of gain, your choice reveals your character.
Similarly, the way a nation treats those with less power — specifically refugees — shows its character. As Russia continues to attack Ukraine, millions of refugees are streaming across Europe. They join refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Congo, Myanmar, Iraq and other nations in seeking safety. I’ve been heartened by news that Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Germany, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other countries are offering them a safe haven. I hope the U.S. will open its doors wider to all refugees.
Historically, refugees have made rich contributions to their host nations. The U.S. would have been a very different country without Albert Einstein, Madeleine Albright, and Sergey Brin, all of whom were refugees. Countries that welcome refugees today may find tomorrow that they’ve adopted the next Einstein, yielding great prestige and prosperity.
Of course, integrating refugees is not a trivial matter. They must adjust to a new home, their host country must adapt to a more diverse population, and local people may worry about competition for jobs and resources. But the need to welcome people fleeing for their lives is pressing. Surely we can find it in ourselves to share with those who have lost everything.
Treating people well regardless of their power should be a key part of building in AI as well. I would love to see the AI community assist displaced Ukrainian engineers. At the same time, let’s help Russian engineers who don’t support the war and want to emigrate and build a new life in a different country.
When developers write software, there’s an economic temptation to focus on serving people who have power: How can one show users of a website who have purchasing power an advertisement that motivates them to click? To build a fairer society, let’s also make sure that our software treats all people well, including the least powerful among us.
P.S. I just spoke at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference about data-centric AI, where I showed the first public demo of data-centric features of LandingLens, an MLOps platform for computer vision built by my team at Landing AI. A highlight for me came during the question-and-answer session, when my friend Bryan Catanzaro, Nvidia’s vice president of applied research, mentioned that the company’s cutting-edge Deep Learning Super Sampling project, which applies deep learning to graphics, uses a data-centric approach. The neural network changes rarely but the team improves the data! You can register for conference and watch a video of the presentation here.