Rediet Abebe | The Ethiopian-born computer scientist using artificial intelligence for social good
Rediet Abebe is an Ethiopian-born Computer Scientist who specializes in Artificial Intelligence. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and is a Junior Fellow (2019-22) at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Abebe became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Cornell University in the United States in 2018.
Her research is in artificial intelligence and algorithms, with a focus on equity and justice concerns.
Abebe moved to the U.S. in 2015 to study, for her masters in applied mathematics at Harvard University. She also holds an M.A. in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard College.
Her PhD dissertation titled “Designing Algorithms for Social Good” received the 2020 ACM SIGKDD Dissertation Award and an honorable mention for the ACM SIGEcom Dissertation Award for offering the foundations of this emerging research area.
Abebe uses algorithms and AI to fight socioeconomic inequality. Her research is influenced by her upbringing in her hometown of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. According to Abebe, she designs and analyze algorithmic, discrete optimizations, network-based, [and] computational techniques to improve access to opportunity for historically disadvantaged communities.”
Abebe’s interest in using AI for social good spurred her to design an AI project that analyzes search queries to shed light on the unmet health information needs of people in Africa while she was an intern at Microsoft. She discovered from her study the demographic groups that are likely to show interest in natural cures for HIV and which countries’ residents are especially concerned about HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination. Her work was the first to use large web-based data to study health across all 54 African nations.
In an effort to inform on better health programming, Abebe is now taking these findings to health experts in ministries of health across the continent. Abebe’s work has informed policy and practice at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Ethiopian Ministry of Education.
To encourage growth in this area of study, Dr. Abebe co-founded Mechanism Design for Social Good, a multi-institutional research initiative that uses algorithms to tackle problems ranging from allocating low-income housing to improving health outcomes.
Dr. Abebe also noticed that there are not enough Black representation in AI studies so she cofounded Black in AI.
There has been extensive interest in Dr. Abebe studies and she has been has been covered by Forbes, The Boston Globe, MIT Technology Review, and The Washington Post and Bloomberg.
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