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Multiple disciplines and diversity.
The most human side of technology.

For a long time, the spheres of knowledge related to letters and sciences have gone down separate paths. Most of the time, scientific and technological discoveries progressed outside of the human sciences, coming together in just a few cases to resolve an ethical or moral conflict. However, in recent years we have seen how different professionals are coming together to seek solutions to increasingly complex problems that require a multidisciplinary point of view.

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In this sense, it is particularly interesting to note the amazing relationship between the most recent technological advances in artificial intelligence and knowledge from the human sciences such as philology and linguistics. Could a Hispanic philologist and an expert in artificial intelligence possibly have anything in common?

There can be nobody better to answer this question than the graduate in Hispanic Philology with a PhD in Applied Theoretical Linguistics, Christina Aranda. Recently, the Sciling team had the honour of interviewing her and learning how a person from the world of letters ended up becoming one of the most influential figures in the world of technology and artificial intelligence in Spain.

Cristina Aranda: a Renaissance woman of the 21st century

These days, it’s a fact that artificial intelligence is widespread and that there are increasingly more professional profiles that include AI-related skills. We are living in a time of changes in a variety of social paradigms, where multiple fields of knowledge intertwine to bring about deep transformations.

In this vein, Cristina Aranda is one of those people who has managed to integrate different areas of knowledge in order to take advantage of new technologies and put them at the service of society.

  • She has over eight years’ experiencein artificial intelligence companies as a consultant and director of business development.
  • She has also been working as a creative and marketing director for large companies and multinationals for fifteen years.
  • Aranda is co-founder and leader of Women Tech, a non-profit entity that fosters the presence of women in the digital sphere.
  • She is also a co-founder of the Ellis Foundation and, more recently, the company , where she is part of a team of troubleshooters for each layer of disruptive technology (AI, data, blockchain, etc.), as well as for innovation and cultural transformation of all types of companies.

As an expert in philology, technology, creativity, marketing, entrepreneurship and a leading “hacktivist” who fights to eradicate gender bias, it’s not surprising that there are those who dub her as ‘a true Renaissance woman of the 21st century’.

What are the advantages of having such a variety of disciplines in your armoury? What’s your opinion about the importance of inclusion and diversity when dealing with technological challenges? In your experience, what challenges do medium and large-sized companies face within today’s social fabric?

Technology and data: linguistics and AI team up

The growth and development in technologies based on artificial intelligence has opened up a wide scope for applying humanistic sciences such as linguistics and philology. The reason for this, put simply, is because someone has to teach machines to understand and process data, which is often information encoded in oral and written language.

Without a doubt, the development of AI and its effective integration into human life requires it to be capable of natural language processing, whether in the form of words or voice searches. In this sense, Aranda underlines that Google, for example, “is nothing more than a lexical-semantic forum where words are auctioned.” Similarly, users and virtual assistants interact through voice commands.

Hence, people with skills in linguistics and communication are capable of making great contributions in developing AI. It’s clear that until now, few philologists thought they would end up working in a large technology solutions company. But that’s precisely what has happened with some humanist professionals, as in the case of Cristina Aranda.

What are the advantages of having such a variety of disciplines?

It’s clear that the adaptability of a multi-disciplinary profile is not only an advantage in this era of technological evolution, but it’s also essential to discover and take advantage of new opportunities. More and more companies are demanding hybrid talent: people with not only technical knowledge, but also social and human capabilities.

You have to be a ’centaur’ or a ’mermaid’ to know how to transfer the skills acquired in the human sciences to the technological sphere. Being able to delve into such diverse areas of knowledge has enabled Aranda to develop the necessary skills to provide advice and consultancy to companies of all sizes.

For Aranda, one of the advantages of having a multidisciplinary profile is that it’s easier to understand how the different departments of a company think. For example, in her work as a manager, she is able to establish quick connections between one sector and another, serving as a ”connector–facilitator so that things flow and turn out as efficiently and quickly as possible.”

At the same time, as an expert in philology and linguistics, she has the ability to make information accessible to all the members of a company, adapting the message so that anyone in any area can understand it. These skills have also helped maintain a human approach when tackling technology projects of all kinds.

Dealing with technological projects using a human approach

Getting machines to develop typically human skills requires collaborative work and participation from expert professionals in various sectors with greatly varied backgrounds and points of view. Working with such a multidisciplinary team is a challenge, especially to achieve the level of cohesion and commitment necessary to tackle such ambitious technological projects.

How is it possible to bring together experts from such different professions and bridge the gap that might separate them and lead projects to fail? For Aranda, the key is to address each undertaking with a human approach, prioritising ethics, humanism and a sense of humour. She places special emphasis on the latter skill.

Sense of humour as a bond for team cohesion

“I think that there is nothing more human than laughter,” Aranda told the Sciling team. And she added: “It has been shown that leaders who use a sense of humour generate greater bonds with their teams.” Commenting on this, she referred to a study carried out by the Harvard Business Review, in which the different results achieved by outstanding leaders in terms of sense of humour were quantified.

The results of the study were published on the website under the title ‘How to be funny at work‘. They partly revealed that “leaders with any sense of humor are seen as a 27% more motivational and admired than those who don’t joke around.” Furthermore, “their employees are 15% more engaged, and their teams are more than twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge—all of which can translate into improved performance.”

How does laughter and humour influence a work team?

Regardless of the level of technological complexity involved in developing and applying an AI-based strategy, the team in charge of implementing it must do so with a humanistic approach. This means that elements like humour and laughter will be constants that will foster creativity and joint effort. The benefits of a good sense of humour particularly include the following:

  • It works as a cohesive tool for the team, bridging the gap between different opinions and perspectives.
  • It contributes to a more positive and pleasant work environment, which in turn helps achieve goals fast and effectively.
  • Tackling changes with a sense of humour makes the adaptation process easier.
  • Thanks to humour and politeness, it’s possible to present ideas and reflections that may otherwise be uncomfortable or unpleasant for the team. Better results are also achieved when giving orders.
  • Good humour reduces or even eliminates negative stress and gets the most out of team performance.
  • A sense of humour helps us to face our own limitations.

Gender bias and other challenges for medium and large-sized companies

Living in these times of change has fostered interaction between different areas of knowledge, which in turn has brought about new social and business challenges. Humanistic professionals who are engaged in developing artificial intelligence-based technologies know very well what challenges are faced by small, medium and large companies.

In this regard, Cristina Aranda spoke in detail with the Sciling team, revealing her interest in fostering inclusion and helping companies overcome obstacles like:

  • Scarcity or lack of quality data.
  • Mistaken expectations about AI applications in one’s business.
  • Gender bias and little equal opportunity.
  • Little recognition of local talent.

As co-founder of Big Onion, a national and international consultancy, auditing and project implementation company, Aranda and her team have seen these and other obstacles up close, which has allowed them to get a more humane idea of the business reality.

AI and companies: data crisis and false expectations

“At Big Onion, we often find companies that either don’t have data, or else it isn’t quality data,” says Aranda. The data crisis that many companies experience hinders AI-based solutions from being developed or implemented. As if that were not enough, many businesses ignore artificial intelligence’s true potential to transform procedures.

One possible cause behind this problem has to do with the lack of training in many work teams. Since they are not yet ready to integrate AI into their systems, they consider it unnecessary or even see it as a rival. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The cultural factor is also involved, since some still underestimate technologies based on artificial intelligence. In this regard, Aranda says frankly: “Sadly, there are those who think that our knowledge and experience are worthless.” They even have the gall to request consultancies and proofs of concept for free, which shows how little value they place on this type of strategy.

Gender bias and equal opportunities.

Though it is one of the most cutting-edge, new technologies, the development of AI also suffers from social prejudice such as gender bias, little recognition of local talent and unequal opportunities. Obviously, this is a complex issue that leaves room for a multitude of approaches and opinions.

In this vein, Cristina Aranda has stood out as being a faithful champion of the role of women in technical and leadership posts within companies. From her point of view, the female presence in these sectors has been affected by the lack of examples to follow and the way such jobs are presented.

“The use of certain verbs, expressions and linguistic formulas affect the fact that men apply for a job while women refrain from doing so,” she affirms. Hence, changing the way companies offer such vacancies and changing the selection procedures would help more female applicants to apply.

Greater recognition for local talent

One last obstacle to developing AI in Spain is related to the scarce recognition given to local talent. In this matter, Aranda points out: “I have had more contact with natural language processing startups, and I have to say that everything they do is amazing, so I’m surprised by the scarce visibility they have within the business fabric.” Once again, we are dealing with a cultural problem, where many AI companies work within an ecosystem that is not very visible.

What are the possible solutions to these problems? Aranda is in favour of startups using a more attractive business proposition, leaving aside the debate between whether to offer a product or a service, and focusing on solving the user’s needs. In addition, it’s always possible to improve the business’ visibility by applying “an exercise of reputation marketing so they can get known and their work acknowledged.”

Multidisciplinary profiles in an era of digital transformation

It’s clear that multidisciplinary profiles such as Cristina Aranda’s and those of hundreds of other professionals are essential to take make the most of the turning point we have now reached. The digital transformation is continuing to grow, and with it come all kinds of opportunities for those who know how to adapt.

Along with the opportunities, of course, there will also be new challenges that will test the depths of our humanity. Indeed, decisions taken now will have a profound impact on future reality. It is therefore time to continue advancing with support for the human and technological sciences.

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