Karen Bhatia

Today’s guest speaker leads innovation initiatives in New York City at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Listen in as Karen Bhatia and I discuss what has spurred significant job creation and industry growth in New York City, how public-private partnerships have fostered innovation in cybersecurity, blockchain, software services, and artificial intelligence in New York City, and what New York is doing to build an inclusive next generation of entrepreneurs for all New Yorkers. This is HumAIn.

Welcome to HumAIn. My name is David Yakobovitch and I will be your host throughout this series. Together, we will explore AI through fireside conversations with industry experts. From business executives, AI researchers to leaders who advance AI for all. HumAIn is the channel to release new AI products, to learn about industry trends and to bridge the gap between humans and machines in the fourth Industrial Revolution.

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David Yakobovitch

Welcome back, everyone, to the HumAIn podcast, where you can learn all about bridging the gap between humans and machines in the fourth Industrial Revolution. Today, I’m joined by one of my colleagues in New York City, Karen Bhatia. She’s a Senior Vice President at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, or NYCEDC.

And if you’re someone who has worked in tech in New York, or you’ve been around the tech ecosystem, their name is always popping up everywhere. I love what they’re doing, and it’s great for us to know about what they’re up to. So, Karen, thanks for joining us at HumAIn.

Karen Bhatia

David. Thanks for having me here.

David Yakobovitch

Thank you. Can you tell us a little bit? If you’re in a tech space in New York you hear about NYCEDC all the time, about new tech hubs, new technology, and about really building public-private partnerships. But why don’t you tell someone who’s not in New York, what is NYCEDC up to? 

Karen Bhatia

Sure. So New York City Economic Development Corporation, as you said, NYCEDC, we are responsible for driving and shaping economic growth throughout the five boroughs. We’re considered the city’s economic engine, and there are different ways in which we do this. There are four primary ways. The first way is that we own and operate approximately 66 million square feet of real estate throughout the city. And we use it for strategic development. 

Another way is that we help build infrastructure. Some examples include broadband in commercial corridors, as well as the New York City ferry system that many of you might be aware of, especially if you’re in New York. And we also bring together, as you mentioned, the public and the private sector academia for all to collaborate on economic development projects. 

Fourthly, we invest in industries, which is what we’re talking about here. And one of them is how do we help develop the tech ecosystem in New York? We’ve made several investments in tech. So, overall, some of the ways, and the broader ways in which the New York City Economic Development Corporation has contributed to the city, ranges all the way from helping to revive Time Square to helping to build Cornell Tech, which is out on Roosevelt Island.

So those are some of the examples and ways in which EDC leverages some of the capacity that we have here in New York to help build economic prosperity across the five boroughs for all new yorkers. 

David Yakobovitch

It’s so incredible to see how New York has gone through a transformation and continues to transform. I’ve been in New York only for the past five years, and I’ve seen not only so many new buildings come up, but so many new tech centers and so many tech jobs. You see how Google and Facebook continue to build their presence. 

You see startups from Spotify to all the ones out of NYU and Columbia and Cooney. And it seems that the tech ecosystem has become this momentum that’s continuing to grow. What do you think has made New York such an attractive place for technology?

Karen Bhatia

As you mentioned, David, over the course of the past 10 years, tech has grown tremendously in New York. And that we have all the ingredients here. So I wanted to mention first that according to studies, for example, Startup Genome, they ranked New York as the second largest tech ecosystem in the world. We also are thrilled that organizations like Dell, for example, have ranked New York number one for female entrepreneurs, and providing support for female entrepreneurs. And all of that, the crux of all of that, lies in a few different resources that we have and assets that New York City has. 

The first is access to capital. Which has been just a primary point and important resource for, of course, all of startups. So we have a really strong investor community here in New York. Last year, in 2018, startups in New York raised about $13.4 billion in VC investment, which is more than double the nominal value from four years ago.

The second component that makes New York really strong is that we have extremely diverse industries. So, as you mentioned, a number of the tech companies from the West Coast have come to New York over the course of the past decade. One of the reasons is because a lot of the customers are here, whether you’re B2B, B2C, B2B2C, your customers are here and New York City is home to more Fortune 500 companies than any other city in the world. And we’re a leader when it comes to financial services, healthcare, media, fashion, real estate, you name it. A number of really strong industries. And you have access to those customers and even opportunities to prototype solutions for those customers here in New York. 

The third competitive advantage that you have in New York is that you have from your academic institutions. You mentioned CUNY, the City University System here in New York. We have SUNY, the State University System here in New York. We have over 120 colleges and universities, Columbia, NYU, many more. So you have top-notch educational facilities as well as organizations that provide tech training.

Fourth is that we have an extremely vibrant startup community. We have over 9,000 startups that are here in New York. We have 120 incubators in New York as well, and really vibrant meetup groups, groups that meet on a daily basis across a variety of different types of technologies. 

And lastly, and this is what I’m most proud about, is actually our workforce. New York has the largest and most diverse workforce in the country. In the past decade, our workforce has actually grown three times faster in tech, compared to the rest of the nation. And we have over 320,000 tech jobs here in New York. Our workforce consists of about 2.3 million new yorkers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

And that’s more than Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles combined. So we have a lot of knowledge. We have a lot of resources here across a variety of different types of disciplines. So our city, we have about 40% of us that are actually first-generation immigrants, too. So we have an incredibly diverse workforce. People who are bringing ideas from all over the world, diverse perspectives to New York and all of these five factors, lend us to being extremely competitive in a variety of industries, including tech.  

David Yakobovitch

What’s so fascinating that you’ve described is that the knowledge economy, where New York has traditionally been focused on business and finance and services, has evolved into a technology economy. And every single day now we see new companies IPOing on the New York Stock Exchange, tech companies founded in New York, not only founded in Silicon Valley. There are unicorn companies, there’s startups, but that’s not just the startups. It’s the whole industry.

I live in Long Island City, and I’ve seen that phenomenal growth to this sector. We’ve seen it in Brooklyn Navy Yard. We’ve seen it go on as we’ve seen, even in the Bronx. The tech hubs spire up, as well, with Fordham University. So it’s, it’s such a growth it’s happening everywhere. 

And one of the myths I like to dispel is when people ask me, David, why are you in New York? Isn’t the population of New York declining? And I say, how can that be so? We have hundreds of thousands of more apartments that exist today than we did 10 years ago. We have hundreds of thousands of more jobs today than we did 10 years ago. So New York is just on the up and up. 

Karen Bhatia

Absolutely. As you mentioned, across a variety of different sectors, David, you’re seeing all of the industries now integrate technology and need a workforce that’s well-versed in technology too, whether it’s core technologies or also ancillary types of positions and role supporting technologies, too. 

So in financial services you need technology. That’s actually a huge component right now, financial services as well, a number of the banks, as well as other types of financial services, organizations and companies need tech, same thing with real estate. You see all sorts of innovation coming out from that. 

Media is a critical part just across the board, health tech too. So it’s not just technology that’s growing here in New York. It’s actually the applications that our industries are leveraging here. So that’s one of the big reasons why tech is growing tremendously here in New York as well.

David Yakobovitch

And all of these applications, as you’ve noted, Karen, are from so many different industries. And there’s a lot of initiatives that NYCEDC has been a part of launching and growing and scaling over the last few years. One of them you mentioned before is Cornell Tech and the new Cornell University and their partnerships with Technion from Israel.

And a lot of the exciting technology. But you’ve done more than just that. What are some of these new centers that have just launched in the last five years and where do you hope for them to go? 

Karen Bhatia

So the growth of tech in New York has been pretty interesting. It started over a decade ago under the Bloomberg administration, when there was a concerted effort to try to diversify the economy outside of financial services.

And during that period of time, we first started with thinking about space. How do we leverage some of the space that the city has for tech to develop here? So one of the examples is the Varick Street Incubator. That was one of the city’s first business incubators that started it around 2009 that we were behind.

And then, we also started scaling that physical space with programs as well. Some of the programs provided resources, whether it’s thinking about fellow operators or incubators, piloting opportunities. One of the programs that we had was called Venture Fellows, that provided access to networks for scaling and growth-stage companies.

Some of the companies that went through these programs included Rent The Runway and Warby Parker, CB Insights, Business Insider. And then it grew from this programmatic development to thinking about what are some of the additional types of resources and secret sauce that we could put together or bring here to New York and grow here in New York.

And like you mentioned, it was thinking about talent. And so, the city put together this applied sciences initiative to make sure that we have talent that’s both growing in New York and coming to New York, as well. So that resulted in the Cornell and the Technion relationship, which grew into Cornell Tech, which we have Roosevelt Island here that focuses on applied sciences, engineering, and a variety of inter interdisciplinary approaches to thinking about how you grow the tech sector and have companies spin out of these types of programs.

In addition to that, our applied sciences initiative also resulted in programs like the Data Science Institute in Columbia University, as well as NYU’s CUS program, too. So we wanted to make sure that we were growing this talent in New York, across a variety of our different institutions that were here. We also focused on developing tech clusters. So some of the examples for that is the Urban Tech Hub that they worked on, which was in New Lab. 

As you mentioned, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as well as a program at Grand Central Tech now called The Company. And this Urban Tech Hub helps to support startups that both develop and deploy tech-based solutions to urban challenges.

We also have built Future Works, which is a network and incubator for advanced manufacturing. We have a cybersecurity strategy that’s kicking off now. It’s over $30 million investment in this sector, which includes a global cyber center and innovation hub for startups, commercialization, as well as training programs.

And we also have recently launched The Grid, which is a network of over 70 organizations in Urban Tech to foster partnerships, as well as sharing of resources. So those are some of the ways in which we’ve focused on growing the tech sector here in New York. And there are other examples in which we’ve actually started thinking more about some of the emerging technologies and actually taking all of our strategies to the next level.

So some of the areas that we’ve started focusing on over the course of the past year, we’ve started focusing on blockchain and thinking about how we make New York a critical player as blockchain grows. And we’re trying to think about what its potential could be. 

Our rationale was, if blockchain is going to be as transformative as people are saying it’s going to be, if it’s going to be essentially, almost like the coming of the internet, how do we make sure that New York has a seat at the table and is also shaping what this technology is, what it’s used for and who has access to it?

This is the second year. This past May was the second year in which we had New York City Blockchain Week in partnership with CoinDesk. It’s the largest blockchain gathering in the world featuring over 40 different events during a week in May across a variety of different types of industries and applications.

We supported it in a variety of ways, including making sure that a number of the conferences were accessible to the diverse population of New York, financially accessible. And we helped shape some of the speaking opportunities that were there, the content as well. 

Another part of our blockchain strategy is our New York City Blockchain Resource Center. It’s located in the flat iron,and it’s essentially a community space for anybody who is interested in blockchain. If you know nothing about blockchain, if you are a company in the blockchain space looking for resources, if you’re looking for education, whether it’s just basic blockchain 101, or if it’s you’re a developer and you’re interested in learning more about blockchain, it’s a space for you. There are a number of events that happen on a daily basis there. 

And a third part of what we’re looking into is trying to help people get better clarity around regulatory aspects of blockchain. The third component of our strategy around blockchain actually focuses more on civic applications of blockchain. So it’s our Big Apps, which is the civic tech competition that we’ve had for several years now. It’s focused on blockchain applications this year. 

And the first part of it was educating the government around what blockchain is. And then, the second part was thinking about what are some applications where blockchain could really be a meaningful solution, not something that’s duplicative, or that’s more complicated than just a better database, but something where it really was important, where there was an opportunity to utilize this technology, where there isn’t trust between parties, where you want to make sure that there’s a track record that you have of transactions as well. 

So Big Apps is actually coming to a conclusion next month and we focused on three different areas where there’s potential: civic applications in conjunction with a number of other government agencies. We’re looking at blockchain applications and identity in real estate and asset management.

And the third is energy efficiency. 

So that’s an example of ways in which we’re thinking about tech applications and how do you build tech sectors here in New York, where we want to be at the cutting edge, and we want help shape where these technologies are going. So that’s one example. Another example is actually what we’re doing in AI, which we’re in the midst of right now.

We also have our lab, which is our virtual reality and augmented reality lab also located at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, too. So I can go into those a little bit more as well. There’s just a whole host of examples that we could discuss further in relationship, in regards to how New York City is growing the tech ecosystem.

David Yakobovitch

It’s incredible everything that you’ve just highlighted. It’s amazing to see how unified the tech ecosystem is in New York. Some of the names that you’ve mentioned, I’ve had the privilege to be a mentor at Grand Central Tech before they were a company. I’m also a current advisor at Future Work.

So we see how there’s a lot of crossover going on in this space because everyone is committed to the outcomes to make New York City the preeminent destination for growing and scaling tech for the new economy. And in this fourth industrial revolution, as you’ve highlighted Karen, whether it’s applied sciences or blockchain or cybersecurity or urban tech, or even now the emergence of AI, they all share in common is the unity of services and technology.

And that’s for that new economy. Our lab is so phenomenal. So for those who haven’t been to it, it’s amazing that this technology is going on with AI and VR and AR and all this cutting edge technology. So it’s incredible to see what’s happening. I’ve had the opportunity to actually take a city bike and bike down to Brooklyn Navy Yard. Even see now all the self piloting buses and cars that are doing autonomous driving. It’s just incredible the technology, but those are just some things I’ve seen, but I’d love to hear it from what you’ve seen. Where did we get the inspiration to go about creating these new centers? And our lab just came about, the last couple of years went live. So, even for the new AI projects going on, where’d we get all of this inspiration? 

Karen Bhatia

One of the distinctions of New York is that when we’re thinking about tech, it’s not necessarily just growing tech for tech’s sake because it’s something that’s trendy. As you mentioned, when we’re thinking about the new economy and where jobs are going, where are products and services coming from as well? 

We’re thinking about how we ensure that New York stays at the forefront of innovation, but this is the most critical component of all of this. And that is keeping in mind how we ensure that all new yorkers are part of this. That they can be part of the workforce. They can be part of the entrepreneurs and they’re actually benefiting from the technologies as well. So that’s really the main impetus for us thinking about technology and what our strategy is for growth of technology.

So, going back to the blockchain center, really, what we wanted to do is to get in on the ground floor to make sure that access to resources, whether they were legal resources, thinking about new types of business models, how we’re innovating, all of that has a community component where anybody can get access to those types of resources and collectively think about how we want this technology to develop here in New York.

So all of our programming, including the RLab, which focuses on virtual reality and augmented reality, including a cross section of other technologies as well, they’re programs that are opened up to the community. You think about workforce development components. We are helping to support Lehman College. There’s a workforce development component of training for VR and AR technologies as well. So underlying all of our strategies for technology is to think about how we ensure that tech growth in New York is equitable and it’s inclusive. And so that’s really the underlying premise to think about this economic opportunity for new yorkers and by new yorkers as well.

So that was also the impetus and the inspiration behind our strategy for developing what is ultimately going to be the New York City Center for Responsible AI is thinking about as AI is developing across a variety of different services and industries, and even by the public sector here in New York, and data is consistently being leveraged across the board, how do we make sure that whatever is being developed is actually being done? 

So in a responsible manner, that includes new yorkers, and that benefits new yorkers as well. So we’ve gone past the situation or the tech for the growth of different types of clusters and thinking about how we grow this ecosystem here in New York to thinking about what is the kind of tech that we want here in New York and what are we going to lead in. And again, that comes down to making sure that it’s inclusive and that it’s equitable, and it’s something that is done for good.  

David Yakobovitch

Thinking about tech for good is right on the spot. Whether it’s AI for good or data science for good or blockchain for good. That’s all about building public trust in these emerging technologies.

And  we’re starting to see those emerging signals occur in New York. For example, one New York City found a startup. SheWorks! grew out to be global, to get acquired by Republic, to do a lot with startups. We even have The Wing, which has emerged in New York for a lot of female executives to be more inclusive in including even Female Founders Fund, which has been based at Galvanize for quite a while to invest in early stage startups.

So I’m all in on this as well. That tech growth needs to be equitable and inclusive. And we have that opportunity. Now, the challenge is that when we think of AI, Artificial Intelligence, the keyword that you mentioned is the New York City Center for Responsible AI. How do we actually build responsible, ethical, explainable systems, which are not just being implemented, but that are helping up everyone? And that’s something that we need to build towards. And so love to hear more about the New York City Center for Responsible AI, a little bit more about its mission and goals. 

Karen Bhatia

Absolutely. So it’s going to be an actual physical space, a physical center that is going to house four different types of programming.

So the first part of it is what we called an applied research lab. What it’s going to focus on is actually real pilots, real applications of AI that are being developed in particular industries or in the public sector. And thinking about how you troubleshoot and ensure that certain ethical principles are being integrated.

So, for example, thinking about how to ensure that an insurance application of AI that is making decisions as to who’s going to get coverage or what their premium is going to be is not going to be biased. So it’s going to go through this process where we’re going to bring together an interdisciplinary group of people.

So you’ll have lawyers, ethicists, people who are knowledgeable about that particular industry, technologists, regulators, and most importantly, to address what you were talking about, David, which is a crisis in the public trust, is to make sure that the public is involved. 

We have community groups who are at the table who are asking questions that are relevant to the development of this AI application, which is where the data is coming from. Is it secure? Is it private? The data that’s training this model, how are you ensuring that it’s actually representative of the population and who’s creating this AI application, the algorithm? How do you ensure that it also is representative of new yorkers? how’s it being developed? What’s the logic behind it? 

What are the factors that are being included? How’s it being tested and maintained as well and deployed? So the entire life cycle or the entire process, all the way from the data, and ultimately what this AI application is going to be used for, all the way through deployment and consistent upgrading and monitoring, going to be subject to questions and also collaborative development of what this is ultimately going to look like. So it’s going to involve a lot of these questions that are really unknown at this point. 

There’s a lot of research that’s happening globally, including in New York itself around what is responsible AI, but when it comes to its actual integration and application, we thought it was extremely important to have these specific pilots that would be important in the variety of different industries. So we thought it would be important to have these actual pilots integrated into industries, as well as into the government as well. So it’s not something in the abstract, but it’s actually something that people can see, how you integrate that. 

So the culmination of this applied research lab is going to be what works, what doesn’t work, what is internally the kind of system that should have in place? How do you ensure that there’s accountability? If anything goes wrong, what are the different types of tools that are out there to help audit algorithms and to help audit any kind of AI systems that you’ve developed? A number of best practices, case studies and tools. That’s ultimately what we want to get out of this, so that when you do have a corporation, you do have a nonprofit, you do have the government leveraging these AI applications, they have some sort of a roadmap as to how do you ensure that the application is not biased.

How do you ensure that ultimately the application can be explained? So that’s essentially what we want to do as part of this and New York City Center for Responsible AI is to actually come away with practical solutions for people as they’re developing AI. So that’s one component. 

The second component is to think about access to data. And as we know, data is a critical resource. It’s the lifeblood of any kind of AI application. And when we thought about access to this data, that is something that is critical, but also there’s a lot of risks associated with it. And so we’ve been thinking about data collaboratives and how can we help incentivize people to come together to provide data and share data, especially when it comes to solving large problems. And also when it comes to thinking about innovation and startups that need access to this data, especially in sectors like inclusive financial services or healthcare solutions. How do we ensure that these kinds of underdogs or smaller companies have access to critical resources, that’s going to help them innovate?

So we thought about with these data collaboratives, how do we make sure that there are different types of technical structures as well as governance structures that we could experiment with that ensure that data is being provided in a safe way, in a way that adheres to privacy, mitigates any kind of risks associated with it.

But simultaneously is for a particular purpose and used for a particular purpose as well. So that’s the second prong of what we’re thinking about, is to incentivize innovation, to incentivize people to come together, but to do so in a way where they’re able to share data for good purposes. And we can help them address any kind of competitive advantage concerns that they have, as well as any other types of risks that they are concerned about. So we’re hoping to come out of that is going to be a number of different types of structures, governance, as well as technical structures or technical tools, as well as learnings so that other people can deploy this as well in the future.

The third part of what we’re looking at is training. Thinking about current higher education, both for data science programs, as well as computer science programs, ensuring that students who participate do have access to ethical considerations and are learning about ethics when they’re thinking about different types of applications of AI and how to make sure that ethics is integrated.

The second component actually looks into our current workforce. So whether you have project managers, whether you have data scientists who are currently developing AI applications, how do you ensure that everybody across the spectrum is thinking about these ethical considerations? So a lot of the learnings, both from the data collaboratives, as well as the applied research lab will be integrated into this type of training, so that as these new products are developed, simultaneously, these considerations are brought in and actually integrated into the service and products itself. So that’s the third component. 

And lastly, what we’re focusing on as well is to think about how do we help support AI for good companies. So that’s loosely defined as companies that are supporting financial inclusion, companies that are developing applications for healthcare, Urban Tech, mobility, thinking about environmental issues as well. How do you leverage this technology to be a tremendous resource for all of us collectively and be a source of good or a force for good as well. So thinking about, is it access to data? Is it access to capital, to space, to piloting opportunities, to potential customers? What are ways in which we could help support these types of companies here in New York? 

So that’s essentially what the New York Center for Responsible AI is going to be covering. And we’re really excited about it. It takes what we’ve developed here in New York. As a city and as EDC, it takes tech to the next level, when we’re thinking about how data is really the lifeblood of all of these technologies in one way or another, how are we going to ensure that both this underlying resource, as well as its applications are very thoughtfully used and thoughtfully made as well. So it’s going to be an ongoing process. There’s a lot of experimentation that’s involved because these are areas that are actually developing currently. There are global discussions around that, and we want to make sure that all of new yorkers our diverse population is actually helping to shape what this is going to look like for years to come.

David Yakobovitch

I cannot agree more on all these points. These global discussions, whether what we’ve seen in Geneva to New York City, to San Francisco and Vegas, everyone’s talking about the future of tech, the future of AI, and one of the classic ways I tell new students when they’re looking to learn about AI and where is it present in your everyday life, I say, there’s this great game that a developer out of MIT Media Lab came out with called AI Bingo. 

So AI Bingo is this game that basically says, do you think this is an application of AI? And some of the examples were, for example, did you use a Snapchat filter or an Instagram filter? That could be AI. Did you ask Google to auto-fill a search result? That could be AI. Did you send the voice to text message? That could be AI. So no matter what the use case is, it’s integrating everywhere. 

And the common theme, which you just address quite nicely, Karen, is data is essential for that. And we have to be responsible on how we collect, how we use and how we make our data applications. The big challenge that I work in each and every day to solve is similar to your mission, which is about workforce development and the future of work or work 2.0, and how do we get to that new steady state. 

And we’ve seen so much growth in New York City from universities and bootcamps and co-ops alike, the responsible AI center, the one that EDC has worked on is going to be essential for this growth and change, but I know it’s more than just EDC’s work. I know it’s more than just the university’s work, but it’s about a public-private partnership. So, why is it important that we are about people first as we’re continuing to scale New York as the preeminent tech center in the world?

Karen Bhatia

That’s ultimately what our mission is. As the city and as EDC and just collectively, ultimately, when we’re thinking about this fourth industrial revolution and what’s coming up, it’s about how we ensure that everybody has access to opportunities, that everybody is able to maximize and realize their potential as well.

So when we’re thinking about all the transformations that are happening and all, the underlying foundational aspects of what we just talked about were two big themes that came out. It’s that in New York, tech is not just developing for tax purposes. Tech is actually foundational across a variety of industries and pretty much all industries. And we’re seeing that here in New York, we’re actually leveraging that as a competitive advantage. But another kind of foundational aspect that goes across all the different industries and even all across all these different technologies is data as well. So there are a few ways to think about it. One is that data from all new yorkers, when we’re thinking about all new yorkers, everybody’s data is being used in one way or another. So how do we ensure that our data is actually used in a way that benefits us, that doesn’t skew products and services that are biased towards people of color or bias towards women?

When we think about resumes that have been screened for job opportunities or thinking about facial recognition and how that could potentially be used in a variety of different ways that hurts communities of color as well. So there are a number of ways in which, when it comes to people first, it comes to making sure that people are not harmed by these technologies by ways in which data is being used. And that there’s actually a benefit, that we actually all benefit from the data that’s being used. So that’s kind of one component when we’re thinking about the services that are being provided, the products that are being provided. 

The second aspect of it is to what you said, David, which is really thinking about the future of work. And there’s so much transformation that’s happening right now. When we think about how to ensure that the workforce of the future is actually prepared for all of these changes, changes are happening now. And so as EDC, we’re very aware of that and we’re thinking about ways to leverage our programs and our incubators and our strategies to ensure that the public and new yorkers have access to these technologies even learn what they’re about first and foremost.

So I had mentioned the Blockchain Center and access to public education classes about what is blockchain. We’re doing the same thing with public demonstrations about virtual reality and augmented reality. When we think about interfaces with these technologies and how they’re going to be changing as well. In addition to basic exposure and awareness, another part of it is the actual training that happens. And so, as we had mentioned, there’s a workforce development training component in our cybersecurity initiative that’s accessible and that’s something that is core and fundamental to the work that the city is doing is to ensure that these technologies in the workforce are diverse and that these are opportunities that are available to all new Yorkers as well.

I’d mentioned the work that we’re doing with VR and AR up at Lehman College, which is open to the public and open to the community and not just students as well. So we also have a request for expression of interest, and we’ve been working with a number of organizations. Seven different consortiums of groups right now to learn more about different types of workforce development programs throughout the city, whether they’re boot camps or academic programs to think about what are the most effective mechanisms by which we can help provide accessible tech training to new yorkers, what’s worked, what could potentially be scaled.

That’s another initiative that we’re learning more about right now as well. So there are a number of different ways in which we’re working on whether it’s actual training programs, whether it’s actually developing a strategy to help diversify what our workforce looks like. There are ways in which we want to ensure that everybody’s benefiting from the changes that are happening in our world, but also in our economy.

And tech plays a critical role in that. I did want to make a distinction here as well, because a lot of the infrastructure and the training that we’ve been doing has been to just people, the public, anybody who wants to get these, the access to this type of technology. And so it’s an area that we are focusing on and that we’re scaling.

And that’s kind of more focused on the workforce. There’s another component, which is an incredibly critical component. And that’s actually thinking about diversity of entrepreneurs. And so ensuring that anybody who has an idea has the resources to actually test that idea and develop that idea as well.

Not just people who have access to critical networks or other types of resources. That’s something that we want to provide, an equitable playground for as well. So some of the other initiatives that the city’s put forward is ventures which are investing in women and diverse entrepreneurs. 

As I mentioned, Venture Fellows as well, has been a way in which we thought about and provided resources and networks to entrepreneurs in the past to a number of our incubator and accelerator programs actually focus on ensuring that these programs are being marketed across the city, so that everybody knows that they have access to these resources because they’re incredible and critical resources that could benefit people from a variety of different industries and backgrounds, if they know about it. So that’s another component is ensuring that not only do we have these programs for the workforce and especially in conjunction with SBS and Tech Talent Pipeline, we have programs for diverse entrepreneurs as well. But everybody knows about them as well.  

David Yakobovitch

It’s amazing to think about where we were 10, 15 years ago, you started today’s episode with such a beautiful point, Karen, that we started on Varick Street. We started growing these incubators and whether they’re through NYU, Columbia, Cornell, and all the new tech hubs that have been emerging in New York, it is really about building the next generation of entrepreneurs.

We’ve seen companies exist such as The Runway, CB Insights, Warby Parker, which are all now amazing hubs in the New York tech ecosystem. And there are programs, as you mentioned, like the Small Business Administration and the Tech Talent Pipeline to continue to scale the workforce. But what’s next? If I’m a new wanting-to-be entrepreneur today, if I’m a student at university in the bootcamp. And I want to be a part of tech in New York. I want to bring my business to New York. What’s next? What should I be excited about? 

Karen Bhatia

All of it. Now, we’ve seen these kinds of clusters grow in these kinds of siloed areas. And it’s really about integration of all the technologies, thinking about how we take tech to the next level. As I mentioned, thinking about, reflecting on it and being very deliberate about who’s creating it. How has it been created? And what for. This is something that we’re seeing, as you mentioned, this type of public trust concern, and also the people who are developing it. We’re seeing continuously this backlash from tech entrepreneurs, as well as people who are working on tech, who are demanding that tech be produced and is actually used in a way that’s responsible. And you want to work in places which are doing this. Ultimately it comes down, like you said, to people first and ensuring that whatever it is that we’re working on has an ethical component and is actually used for purposes that we believe in.

So, like I said, this is where our goal is, to ensure that tech is taken to the next level that it’s responsible and that it’s inclusive as well. So those are some of the areas that our underlying purpose and our mission and what we’re focusing on going forward as well. And one of the examples that I give regarding the New York City Center for Responsible AI is when you think about healthcare applications, this was in the news, maybe about six months ago.

You think about like a diabetes application, AI application, that’s trained on information, medical information. That’s not diverse. Let’s say there was one in particular that was trained primarily on caucasians and populations like African-American populations, Latino populations know if they’re actually being diagnosed with diabetes based on an AI application. That model’s not trained on data that’s representative of them. Not only is it something that is just not effective, it actually could potentially be dangerous. So when you think about not only should these applications be used for good to collectively benefit us all, but you’re also thinking about what is your business and how do you want to ensure that your business grows and does so successfully, you need to consider all of these applications as well. 

So I would say, what to be excited about is to think about how all of these technologies interact with one another. How we ensure that we are working collectively to answer some of the difficult questions that we have involving technology for the good of all of us, but also to ensure that whatever it is that we’re innovating is actually going to be effective and benefiting us as well.

I love all of it. And I’m super excited too, as well. See all the great new projects coming out of the New York City Center for Responsible AI and all of the hubs, Cornell Tech, Cyber NYC, The Blockchain Institute, Urban Tech portfolio. There are so many great things happening in New York. And I say, we are moving on fast into a growing tech economy and the EDC. You’re definitely part of the center of it. 

And Karen, it’s such a pleasure. To hear more about everything that you’re working on and for joining with us today on the HumAIn podcast. 

Karen Bhatia

Thank you so much, David. 

David Jacobovitch

Thank you.

Hey humans. Thanks for listening to this episode of HumAIn. My name is David Yakobovitch and if you like HumAIn, remember to click subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify or Luminary. Thanks for tuning in and joining us for our next episode. New releases are every Tuesday.