Continuing with the Excellence in STEM interview series, the IEEE Computer Society team was privileged to interview Dr. Shaoshan Liu during Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Dr. Liu is a distinguished technologist with an entrepreneurship and public policy background.
Throughout the interview, Dr. Liu sheds light on the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion in these fields, sharing personal experiences and offering valuable recommendations to inspire and motivate others.
Join us as we delve into Dr. Liu’s experiences and recommendations for a computing community that promotes Connection and Belonging.
What is your definition and meaning of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the context of computer science and engineering?
Unlike many other disciplines, computer science and engineering is innately universal. For example, Google’s search engine is actively used across the globe, regardless of race, gender, location, age, educational background, etc. Intel, AMD, and Nvidia’s computing chips power various kinds of computing workloads everywhere on Earth and outside of Earth. Microsoft’s Windows enables people with different backgrounds access to the power of computing.
Similar to its products, the field of computer science and engineering should also be universal, welcoming people from all races, genders, locations, ages, and educational backgrounds to contribute so that the products developed by these people also entail universal values to serve the world better.
In a way, participants in the field of computer science and engineering are creating a virtual world that reflects the core values of the physical world we live in. By maintaining an environment that is equal, diverse, and inclusive in computer science and engineering, we will be able to create a virtual world that is also equal, diverse, and inclusive, hence passing the core values of mankind to the products we develop to improve human society.
What barriers to inclusion have you experienced throughout your career?
Throughout my career, there have been many occasions when I, unfortunately, encountered non-inclusive situations. For instance, when I just started studying in the U.S., my Asian accent often led people to ignore my opinions, no matter how valuable or insightful they were. As a junior engineer, my opinions did not count and were often taken over by senior voices.
What are 1-2 ways the computing community can work together to prevent these experiences from occurring to future professionals?
Equity, diversity, and inclusion are intrinsic cultural values that have to be incubated within the community and are very hard to enforce through external rules. The best advice I can provide is to start with yourself, treat everyone equally with respect, and be patient to include diverse voices. If everyone can start following these social norms, then soon, the whole computer science and engineering community will embrace the culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion. In addition, publicity of stories of equity, diversity, and inclusion through the IEEE publication channels will be a constant reminder for people to follow these social norms.
A lack of understanding of others’ experiences may sometimes lead to unintended consequences. What recommendations can you make to the community to help them increase their understanding of your culture and/or background that would help individuals feel more welcomed?
Patience is a virtue. Although listening to diverse voices can be time-consuming and sometimes confusing, enduring the small short-term pain of understanding different opinions often leads to the great long-term gain of being able to come up with practical solutions. All great leaders have to go through this process, and I believe inclusion is a fundamental leadership trait.
Can you share an example from your education or career experiences where diverse voices had, or could have had, a significant impact on a project?
As a technology entrepreneur in the artificial intelligence (AI) sector, in the past decade, I have closely interacted with various technology regulatory bodies around the world, including the U.S., Europe, Japan, and China. I have encountered many AI regulation problems, mainly due to the lack of understanding of AI technologies from various regulatory bodies, and the lack of standardized methods of AI regulation. Compared to the software industry norm, which spends 13% of its overall budget on compliance, AI startups have to spend 42% of their budget on compliance.
Dealing with various regulatory bodies around the world has been a painful experience for me, as people from different cultural backgrounds impose different requirements to regulate AI products. Nonetheless, throughout the process, I was able to consolidate diverse voices in AI regulation and to further identify the key challenge of AI regulation as the lack of a global standard of AI regulation, and the lack of AI expertise in different governments.
With these observations, I was able to propose the establishment of an institution similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide expertise and global standards for regulating AI.
Facing the AI regulatory dilemma, a global standard of AI regulation will greatly benefit the AI entrepreneurship community, and the whole AI sector. Without an effective precedence on AI regulation, a review of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) history could shed some light on AI regulation. More than one hundred years ago, the development of complex pharmaceutical drugs was regarded as both threatening and promising as AI is today. First, both pharmaceutical products from one hundred years ago and AI today are viewed as black boxes. Even the most sophisticated scientists could not predict the development trajectory with high accuracy, let alone legal experts. Second, both pharmaceutical and AI technologies have the potential to cause severe public risks if they are not appropriately regulated. Third, both industries have enormous potential for improving people’s well-being once adequately controlled.
Like the FDA, such an institution should be a consumer protection agency aiming to ensure that AI is developed for people’s well-being by encouraging responsible and ethical AI and discouraging dangerous and overwhelming AI. The process should guide companies to analyze the benefits and risks of their AI projects thoroughly.
In summary, although taking in diverse voices could be a painful and long process, the result could lead to much greater good. We have to be able to endure small short-term pain to obtain great long-term gain.
Given the importance of computer science and engineering becoming and being a more diverse and inclusive community, we strive to hear the perspectives of persons from equity-seeking populations. What are 1 or 2 ways such diverse perspectives and experiences can be solicited and heard without making the persons who share them feel tokenized or otherwise uncomfortable?
Regardless of your race, gender, location, age, educational background, etc., first, do not be afraid to express your opinion. No matter who you are, you are representing a group of people whose opinions are important to the advancement of computer science and engineering.
Getting accustomed to and good at framing your arguments and presenting your opinions is essential to express your perspectives, and these are the necessary skills to advance your career in computer science and engineering.
In addition, a good channel of expression ensures that your perspectives are listened to. International professional organizations, such as IEEE, are designed to be equal, diverse, inclusive, and influential. I encourage you to become an IEEE Computer Society volunteer and author, and to utilize the IEEE channel to voice your opinions and to influence the field of computer science and engineering for the promotion of equality, diversity, and inclusion.
More About Dr. Shaoshan Liu
Dr. Shaoshan Liu’s background is a unique combination of technology, entrepreneurship, and public policy, which enables him to take on great global challenges. On technology, Dr. Shaoshan Liu has published four textbooks, more than 100 research papers, and holds more than 150 patents in autonomous systems. On entrepreneurship, Dr. Shaoshan Liu has been the CEO of PerceptIn and has commercially deployed autonomous micro-mobility services in the U.S., Europe, Japan, China, etc. He is also the China Chair of IEEE Entrepreneurship. On public policy, Dr. Shaoshan Liu has served on the World Economic Forum’s panel on Industry Response to Government Procurement Policy, is leading the Autonomous Machine Computing roadmap under the IEEE International Roadmap of Devices and Systems (IRDS), and is a member of the ACM U.S. Technology Policy Council, and a member of National Academy of Public Administration’s Technology Leadership Panel Advisory Group. Dr. Shaoshan Liu’s educational background includes an M.S. in Biomedical Engineering, a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from U.C. Irvine, and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from Harvard Kennedy School. He is an IEEE Senior Member, an IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Speaker, and an ACM Distinguished Speaker.