Responsible AI and the importance of data in the 21st century: Anika Mahajan

Anika Mahajan

An Apeejay Panchsheel Park alumna, who works with a global fashion brand, talks about how the use of AI is bringing along various ethical challenges and how the AI-regulatory landscape is evolving.

By Disha Roy Choudhary: Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have permeated industries, becoming one of the most powerful agents of economic growth and development in recent times.

But going by the popular adage: “With great power comes great responsibility”, it is incumbent on companies to adopt advanced technologies in an ethical way, to foster the trust of customers and businesses in the use of such technologies.

Apeejay alumna Anika Mahajan who is working as a business expert-Responsible AI & Data, H&M Group, tells us more:

Tell us briefly about your role at H&M.

I am leading the Responsible AI and Data Governance vertical. My focus now is essentially to set Responsible AI policy and drive its operationalisation across the organisation.

We are working to embed Responsible ethical AI and Data practices across the lifecycle of tech products.

In addition, we are also working towards raising awareness and training people across the organisation, on the topic.

You did your graduation in mathematics, followed by an MBA in Marketing and Finance. Tell us why.

It was around high-school that I realised there were certain subjects that I particularly like. Mathematics was clearly at the top of the list.

I went on to pursue BSc Honours in Mathematics. After that, I wanted to add a management degree to my profile, which is why I enrolled for an MBA degree in Marketing and Finance at Fore School of Management.

What motivated you to pursue a career in data analytics?

During my MBA, I was exposed to Data-based Analytical Methods, which was an unconventional subject back then, whereby companies had started exploring the power of data to make business decisions.

Given my inclination towards Mathematics and practical applications of the same, this subject instantly became my favourite, and I soon realised that I would like to pursue my future career in the field of Data Analytics.

I was the only student in our batch who opted for a job in a data analytics consultancy. I am so thankful that the opportunity came my way and paved the path for my professional journey.

How did you transition to Responsible AI?

In the last 14 years of work experience, my profile has evolved considerably. I started with market research, data analysis, analytics solution design, followed by translational consultations for clients.

It gradually transitioned into more advanced solutions involving Data Science and Machine Learning (ML).

I worked with AbsolutData Research & Analytics for five-and-a-half years, after which I moved to Accenture-Applied Intelligence where I spent seven years.

I was operating as senior manager-Data Science and was also leading the Responsible AI practice for the ASEAN region.

A few years back, media reports on data breaches and irresponsible use of AI caught my attention. I thought, what if we could come up with data-based solutions to help improve the quality of being developed?

That is how I started working on Responsible AI back at Accenture. After that, I was approached by H&M Group, who were looking to operationalise their Responsible AI and Data strategy.

Can you cite some examples of Responsible AI?

Most companies are undergoing a digital transformation, which involves harnessing the power of data. This also involves learning from historic data and making intelligent choices in the future.

These learnings can span across the value chain.  For instance, companies look to use data-based solutions right from product designing, manufacturing, pricing, marketing to delivery.

As a lot of these services are being personalised and made real-time for customers, it involves studying the behavioural and personal data of the customers to provide an exceptional experience.

Hence, it becomes imperative that organisations use customer information responsibly, avoid unintended outcomes and use it keeping the well-being of customers in mind.

To give you an example, suppose you are customising garments as per the users’ body type. For this, you need to first measure the user’s body accurately wherein comes the use of a body scanner, which comes with an intelligent algorithm at the backend.

But the algorithm trained for a US body type may not work for that of an Indian. The developers of such technologies should be very conscious that every design decision is properly thought out to avoid unintended consequences and provide a positive experience to the customers.

Are companies across the world increasingly adopting Responsible AI practices?

Responsible AI is still in its nascent stage. A lot of research in the field is ongoing; it has picked up in the last five-six years.

It started as a concept in response to AI/ML solutions being reported in media for discriminatory outcomes, causing emotional damage to people as well as reputational damage to businesses.

Companies tried to come up with solutions to ensure their practices are well-governed, which led to the formulation of principles and policies in this regard.

Now, most organisations are in the phase where they are exploring how to apply these policies in actual operations.

Having said that, different organisations are at different stages of maturity but the industry, in general, definitely realises the importance of Responsible AI because business cannot be done at the cost of causing harm to customers or broader society.

You have to be very conscious of how you drive growth while keeping the benefit of people and the planet in mind.

What about government regulations?

They are coming up, like the proposed European Law on Artificial Intelligence (EU AI) Act which is expected to come into effect in 2024.

Similar acts are being proposed in other parts of the world. There have been regulations around data privacy in many regions, which also has implications on data being used for AI/ML applications.

In India too, the government is actively pursuing advancement in this area through collaborative ecosystem approach through various initiatives with Nasscom.

What was school like?

I spent my entire school life at Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park, which was an amazing experience. I was blessed to have great teachers — the support and love I received from them helped me unlock my potential.

They were very empathetic; I would like to specially mention Sadhna ma’am, Chitra ma’am, and Sunita ma’am, who were very encouraging, among many other teachers.

I also vividly remember how Rajni ma’am took care of me while I was recovering from typhoid in Class X — I was the class monitor but she ensured I did not have to get up from my desk.

I developed a natural liking for both Mathematics and Science, which evolved over time and led me to pick the non-medical stream for Classes XI-XII. I was the school topper in Class XII and received Apeejay President’s Gold Medal for academic excellence.

One of the best things about the school was the diversity and exposure it offered. We were introduced to a variety of extra-curricular activities.

I remember how our art teacher Kaveri ma’am familiarised us with various painting methods. At that time, our school was one of the few ones with a swimming pool and a big auditorium back then — whether it was learning how to swim or performing on that big stage, every moment became memorable.

Any message for Apeejay students?

Expose yourself to diverse topics and subjects to spot your calling. If you choose a subject that excites you, work will never feel burdensome, and you will always feel energetic about it.

These days, you have so many career options, so you don’t necessarily have to fall back on conventional choices.

You can make a career out of anything! Don’t underestimate your potential but work towards honing it to the best of your ability.


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