Isabelle Ringnes: Only diverse teams will stop tech dystopia

By Kitty Knowles 10 October 2017

The singularity is coming. Let’s steer clear of sci-fi horror stories.

Isabelle Ringnes is the co-founder of TENK, Norway’s Technology Network for Women.

When she’s not leading inspiring campaigns focused on gender equality, she’s speaking at awesome events – like Oslo Innovation Week – or hosting her great entrepreneurship podcast 20-30.

Ringnes also recently attended the renowned Silicon Valley think tank, the Singularity University, where she learned just how technology can help solve global challenges.

One thing, she says of her experience, is clear: we need to empower more women to embrace technology, to avoid dire consequences.

Inside the Singularity University

Attending a 10-week programme at the Singularity University wasn’t exactly easy going.

“It’s like boot camp,” Ringnes explains. “You learn about exponential technologies (technologies that are developing at an exponential pace) in the hope that you’ll be inspired to see how you can apply those to the world, and hopefully start a company.”

The entrepreneur dove deep into areas like robotics, nanotechnology, and blockchain – all of which are growing swiftly as industries, both becoming more powerful and cheaper.

She also learned about one of her personal passions: health.

“With digital biology, we’ll be able to predict illnesses way before we get them … while CRISPR – the DNA modifying enzyme – could basically be used to reprogram humanity to eliminate disease,” she explains.

The tech evangelist even told The Memo about the NFC chip embedded in her hand.

“Today, I can pay for the tram in Stockholm,” she explains. “But you can imagine a time when it will be able to read my body data continuously, and give me an alert when it sees something off-normal, telling me to do something, or see a doctor.”

“There’s a bunch of billionaires already using stem cell harvesting to repair their bodily functions,” Ringnes adds. “This costs so much today, but hopefully these kinds of cures will become accessible to everyone.”

Read more: This microchip in your arm means you’ll never lose your train ticket again

TENK's 'Tech Camp' for girls.

Our AI future

While at the Singularity University, Ringnes was also awakened to the power of artificial intelligence (which could see machines outsmart people by 2045 – if leaders like Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil are to be believed).

“I’m sure that machines are going to be smarter than us … but at the same time what defines intelligence is still a question up to be truly answered and agreed upon,” weighs up Ringnes.

Famously, the thought-leaders like Elon Musk and Professor Stephen Hawking have voiced concern about the dystopian dangers of a ‘robot uprising’.

Read more: Should we fear killer robots? 1,000 leading tech experts, scientists and researchers think so

But Ringnes has faith that technology will serve us well – if we steer it in the right direction.

“People are extremely afraid that robots are going to take all our jobs,” she explains.

“But at the same time you see that around a third of the jobs in the US years ago didn’t exist 25 years ago, and it’s predicted that 65% of children in school today aren’t gonna be working in fields that exist today.”

Progress will involved complicated challenges, of course: “where do you draw the line in DNA editing?” she asks. “Will we have too much spare time?”

But, ultimately, Ringes believes that diverse teams are the way to stave off any impending catastrophe.

“If you have good people developing technology, good technology is going to come out of it,” she says.

We need women

Ringnes’ positivity is refreshing, but we need more women in tech if we want a future that works well for everyone.

“We’re still very far from a very equal world, and technology is very much shaping the future,” she points out.

Those working in tech are largely male, even more so in Silicon Valley, and already AI is learning from bias, she explains.

“At one point, when a woman searched for a job on Google (vs a man), the woman was getting results for less high level and worse paid jobs, reinforcing an existing culture,” Ringnes explains.

“We need to get women into the actual developing of new technology. Not every woman has to be a developer, but getting involved is essential to a better and more inclusive future.”

TENK trailblazers

This is one reason Ringnes founded TENK in the first place. Since its launch in 2015, the women’s forum has become a hotbed for female talent.

Ringnes’ TENK co-founder Camilla Bjørn is now chief executive of the NRK P3 radio station, part of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.

“She’s been a really important voice in inspiring women, helping them to let go of the fear of technology and lean in to understand it,” says Ringnes.

The entrepreneur also shines a light on Christine Spiten, who co-founded Blueye Robotics, the company behind the awesome underwater drones we told you about last year, and on Anita Schjøll Brede, who attended Singularity University before her.

“Anita’s IRIS AI tool basically takes all the world’s hidden research papers and makes it easy for entrepreneurs and companies to surface them,” says Ringnes.

Besides TENK, Ringes also co-founded #Hunspanderer, a campaign connecting leaders from Google Norway, Mckinsey, and even the bank DNB, to speak openly about the importance of tackling subtle discrimination and gender stereotypes.

“My strongest message to girls is that technology is so exciting,” adds Ringnes.

“I hope from the bottom of my heart that girls engage in it because it will shape the future: not only for them, but generations to come.”