• Wednesday, March 22, 2023


On this International Women’s Day, meet Shweta Singh, who aims at using technology to fight societal injustice

Shweta Singh (Picture: University of Warwick)

By: Shubham Ghosh

She was passionate about numbers from a young age, so much so that she wanted to score cent per cent in mathematics every time and anything less than that would make her feel that the world has come to an end. This passion has pushed Shweta Singh, an assistant professor of Information Systems and Management at the Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, to scale the heights and touch her dreams, but the journey was far from smooth.

We salute Singh for her contribution on this International Women’s Day, the theme for which this year is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. This theme is aligned with the priority theme for the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women which kicked off on Monday (6), ‘Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’.

Singh, who harbours primary research interest in subjects such as artificial intelligence and behavioral data science and aims at using technology to combat societal injustice, comes from a humble family background from northern India, a region which is known for its deep patriarchal roots.

Shweta Singh at one of her lecture sessions.
Shweta Singh at one of her lecture sessions. (Picture: University of Warwick)

“I grew up in a place where, like in many of the country’s rural parts, women wear ‘ghoonghat’, a kind of headcover, to hide their faces particularly from the elder male members,” she told India Weekly to give a glimpse into the rough social terrain that she had to overcome in the beginning of her remarkable journey as an accomplished scientist.

While Singh faced the obstacles that an average girl encounters in her growing days in many parts of India even today, she found a great ally in her mother who backed her throughout to get education. “Coming from a part where, forget about doing a PhD and Master’s and going to the US and UK, the whole idea of being a woman is to take care of your family, husband and kids as a home maker, my mother had other thoughts,” she said while expressing her gratefulness to her mother.

Singh’s strong determination to receive education so that she could become independent and pursue her passion could have failed had not her mother given her unflinching support. Her father, who wanted her to go to a girls’-only school, was completely opposed to the idea of her going to the US for doing her doctorate and it was her mother who stepped in to convince him. “She will not let you down. Just give her the confidence and permission to go,” Singh said about how her mother, who ensured that she went to a convent school, came to her rescue when it came to pursuing higher studies abroad.

The moment of spreading the wings came thereafter and there was no looking back.

Singh received her PhD in Information and Decision Sciences from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, US. Besides, she also has a Master’s degree in Computer Science and another in Applied Economics from the same university.

Singh made full use of the scholarship she received to earn not one but as many as three degrees from one of the top public universities in the US. “I got three degrees where most people could not get even one. And it is not easy, I must tell you. Particularly when you are on an immigrant visa,” she told India Weekly.

“You have to maintain your visa status. For people like us, if I do not maintain a certain level of grades while studying in a country like the US, the fellowship would not sustain and if that happens, studying there becomes extremely challenging,” she said.

Singh hasn’t forgotten the discrimination she had faced during her childhood days and after pursuing the higher education in the west, she decided to make it a weapon against the same discrimination. She has, for example, focused her research on artificial intelligence (AI) to deal with the problem of societal injustice.

“The West Midlands’ Cyber Resilience Centre works on figuring out how to stop human trafficking and slavery. There are several instances where vulnerable young women, who are lured by good job promises, fall prey to slavery, prostitution, human trafficking. To deal with the menace, we are designing an AI which can identify the evil networks, how people get trapped into them, how they operate and what can be done to prevent them,” Singh told this publication.

Giving another example of how she and her team are working on online safety to protect minors, Singh said. Citing the case of Molly Russell, a teen who committed suicide after watching harmful posts on social media, she said it makes regulation of online content an urgent cause and they are working on a framework that would give the lawmakers a tool to tackle the threat, which also includes cyber-bullying, hate speech, besides suicide.

The online safety bill is a hotly debated piece of legislation in the UK today, seeking all tech companies to shield children from harmful content.

When asked what inspired her to take up a cause to protect children from online abuses, Singh said it’s the empathy. “When something bad happens, we tend to think what we can do about it. But apart from donating some funds, could we do more? If something happens to somebody, we also tend to feel that it could be us tomorrow and hence the urge to do something more arises.

“As a researcher, I assess my capacity to contribute in such situations so that a fundamental change can be brought. I care about the society and I want to give something back. That’s the only way I can make a change and hence, I decided to combine the passion and research to do something substantial.”

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