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Empowering women in tech and advocating for ethical AI

Can AI create poetry? Will driverless cars navigate through Athens anytime soon? Will Facial Recognition Technologies be deployed in public places? One of our latest members can suggest many potential answers to these intriguing questions. Sacha analyses ethical guidelines and suggests policy frameworks on artificial intelligence (AI). She works for the nonprofit think-tank The Future Society that focuses on AI policy and ethics. We had the chance to speak with her about her research on AI and the role of women in tech, a field that she is motivated to promote. 

Sacha on the coworking rooftop

Getting into the tech industry and AI policy

Sacha is Franco-Chilean. She was raised in Paris and studied politics, philosophy, and economics in the UK, France, and the US.  During her Master’s studies in International Affairs in Paris, she participated in an exchange program in Boston. This decision was a turning point for her career in AI policy. It is during this exchange program that she met the co-founder and president of The Future Society, Nicolas Miailhe. While in Boston she became accustomed to AI and digital innovation, but also to the lack of women and minorities present in this field. 

She is an inspiring example to everyone who loves traveling and experiencing new ways of working with others. Furthermore, she did research about the lack of women in the tech sector: the gap is huge for reasons that are both social and economic. Her studies led her to argue that diversity (ethnic, gender, socio-economic, political) is an important factor to boost productivity and creativity in the workplace. 

Sacha on the rooftop

From theory to practice: working on responsible AI adoption  

Once back in Paris, Sacha was able to reconnect with The Future Society’s co-founder and evolve in an innovative, rapidly changing field. The Future Society specializes in the ethics and governance of AI while advancing its responsible adoption for the benefit of humanity. At the same time, they support the empowerment and active voice of women in tech. In the upcoming month, Sacha will work on Tunisia’s AI National Strategy.

She has also conducted research on different relative topics. These include the ethical challenges for the adoption of contact tracing apps, and the use of AI to fight against the pandemic (with the Global Partnership for AI). As a side project, she built a whole digital community of Affiliates, coming from 20 countries, to advance responsible AI adoption globally and support the organization’s workstreams. They share their views and experiences through a Slack group while using the Signal app for chatting.

Sacha and colleagues

Digital innovation & AI policy for a sustainable society

Sacha’s research on AI policy is about finding the right balance between capturing the upsides of AI and limiting its risks.

AI development can lead to curated educational programs and healthcare self-diagnosis on one hand, and online surveillance and political disinformation on the other. 
For example, Sacha notes that digital contact tracing apps used during the pandemic may be very helpful to identify clusters and limit the spread of the virus. But on the other hand, citizens may not use these apps, even when the design achieves high levels of data privacy, as they have lost trust in governmental authorities and are suspicious of technology using sensitive data! 
Moreover, Sacha underlined the example of automatization of work. Automatization done correctly can bring work-life balance with less working hours, more free time, and same or higher salary. We must change the way we think about labor values and measurements of productivity, she adds. Lifelong learning can help prepare workers for upskilling and repurposing of work goals and practices. 

Sacha and colleagues in Athens

“It is important to remember  that we are still at the dawn of AI adoption, so many paths are possible. We tend to think that the course of technology is linear, when actually we can collectively decide upon its trajectory.”

How does AI relate to remote work?

Digital innovation and AI policy are definitely related to coworking practices! So we asked Sacha to suggest tips and apps we can use while working remotely to keep our private data safe:

  • Using a Protonmail
  • Trying the Signal app
  • Connecting to a VPN
  • Installing an Adblocker is such a relief!
  • Checking the cookies on a website is truly crucial too! Let’s learn to avoid the “accept all” option!

The EU currently has one of the most regulated frameworks in the world (GDPR) so it takes two seconds to check your cookies!

The pandemic is an awakening call that teaches us to be able to organize ourselves in distance and work remotely. This can happen on a personal level. We learned from Sacha that Greece kickstarted the process to draft its AI strategy last summer. This builds on other local ongoing initiatives, such as the “AI and Rule of Law” Roundtable, which happens every October. According to the Chair Of the AI and Rule Law initiative, Nicolas Economou, who organized the second annual Athens Roundtable on  “AI and the rule of law” last October, this is a very promising initiative that will also help Greece digitize its public sector. 

Sacha in AI civic forum

Advocating for more women in tech

During her exchange in Boston, Sacha researched the reasons behind the lack of women and minorities in the tech sector. She shared some shocking numbers! According to a report published in 2019, there are only 18% of women researchers in the field of AI.  This inspired her to build curriculums and mentorship programs in AI policy and ethics to train more women in this field. And we might get a taste because we discussed planning an AI policy and ethics discussion group at Stone Soup too (of course we’ll let you know)!

Sacha coworker on rooftop

Working on digital innovation from Athens

Do you know what else boosts Sacha’s creativity? Athens itself! She ended up here during the pandemic when she realized that she doesn’t have to stay in a specific place to work. She admits that the sun makes her more productive. Athens is an underrated city in her opinion, still unnoticed by many apart on their way to the Cyclades, and she characterized it as the Berlin of the Mediterranean! She loves how the city flourishes artistically while conserving its original vibes. Because of her work,  Sacha is often thinking about the future, and in Athens, she finds the perfect balance to live in the present as well. And we are happy to add her ingredients to our pot!

Digital Art in Athens and beyond: a curator’s view

For Foteini Vergidou, 2020 was a milestone year for digital culture and contemporary art. Our new member is a curator, researcher, and project manager based in Athens. 

“2020 was a year of living online and I don’t know if there will be any difference between art and digital culture from now on.”

Her curatorial practice focuses on the impact of technological advancements on human relations, on human-machine relations, and between humans and their ecosystem. She explores issues related to cultural identity, climate change, surveillance, and big data.

We had a chance to speak with her about the current digital art scene of Athens and the value of digital media for contemporary artists. 

Foteini coworker member at Stone Soup

Exploring digital art: getting exposed to experiences abroad

Foteini represents a brain gain example. She obtained an MA in Interactive Media: Critical Theory and Practice from the Goldsmiths University of London. While studying she explored the contemporary art scene in London and indulged in her research interests before moving to Berlin to work in the iconic transmediale festival.  She stayed in Berlin for 3 years and worked as a gallery manager in DNA Berlin. Such an international and multicultural environment equipped her with an open mind towards work-related issues. As a result, living and working abroad made her realize that there is no center of experiences and no bipolar divisions between “us” and “them”.

She returned and settled in Athens in 2015. In that year,  Foteini worked as Coordinator and Project Manager for Kappatos Athens Art Residency Program. During this period, she collaborated with international artists such as Martin Creed, Roy Ascott, and Santiago Sierra. She also curated the Web Art exhibition category for the Athens Digital Arts Festival in Greece for the 11th and 12th editions. Most recently, she curated the Hysterophimia Pavilion, the Greek Pavilion for the 4th edition of The Wrong Digital Art Biennale (2019 – 2020) exploring the contemporary culture around Images, from selfies to big data. 

Since 2018, she has worked as Curatorial Advisor and Project Manager for the artist Kalliopi Lemos, developing research upon themes that center around migration, human rights, and gender injustice. At the same time, she worked on different projects in Athens and abroad promoting artists through digital media.

Online culture and physical community: two sides of a common goal

For Foteini, the experiences triggered and gained abroad can be developed in one’s own country. Physical and online interaction with audiences and other creative professionals, input and output of experiences, drive a successful exposure.

Thus, community and network building play an important part in her career. It is actually the first thing she advises every new artist to pursue through physical and digital media. On one hand, this is the reason she joined a coworking space. It offers a physical chance of socialization, necessary to bring together different perspectives and ideas among professionals. On the other hand, artists can achieve digital interconnectivity and exposure through investment in up-to-date online platforms and social media like Instagram. In the last few years, digital art and media became an upcoming field in Athens. The pandemic boosted this relatively new way of promotion and highlighted the importance of the transition to online representation.

Foteini coworker member at Stone Soup

Tips for new artists: digital platforms are the future

But how can an artist take advantage of the digital media available to promote their body of work? Foteini describes a few fruitful moves they can make: network building, social media, research in up-to-date websites, platforms, funding. An artist’s online presence should include a social media account, like Instagram, where they promote their artwork. Through this medium, their physical network can interact with them and give them feedback. 

Also, for Foteini the curative process is connected with a certain amount of research. Every exhibition is the result of a body of research that she deals with at a particular moment. Since 2017, she is an editor and writer at FerociousUrbanites.com, where she conducts research around issues that derive from our relation to technology. This is also an example of an up-to-date website with a strong focus on promoting Greek digital artists to an international audience. Browsing websites like this can offer artists and art lovers inspiration and information about online culture and digital art.

Since 2019, she is an active member of the TILT platform, bringing together creative people including artists, researchers, and theorists. She is always seeking collaboration with other professionals, coming often from diverse disciplines and practices, in order to develop synergies and joint projects. Her main goal is to conduct collective research, while forming an exhibition or a public intervention, in order to reveal different perspectives. The exhibition “Iasis” she curated for the TILT platform presented a body of work, artworks, educational seminars, and workshops, that investigated the political and social dimensions of global human activity. The TILT platform is an example of a network-building initiative for artists. Foteini compares it with a coworking space where members can interact and share their ideas and projects.

Foteini in an open coworking space

Picks ‘n tips for digital culture events & art-lovers

Foteini thinks that the contemporary Athenian cultural scene is experimental, as is the city itself. The pandemic has boosted the transition to online representation even though she agrees that there are limits. For example, both theatre and art exhibitions had to offer the audience an experience mediated by the Internet. Big and small institutions had to adapt to the new condition and the results are appealing to many. She points out that the initiatives to promote online culture from Onassis Foundation and the PCAI are worth “browsing”. Furthermore, digital media like Instagram are basic components of projects curated by 3137, an artist-run space in Athens. On the international side, she suggests visiting the  Top Museum (Tokyo Photographic Art) and the Overkill festival.

Foteini’s expertise as a curator is to manage all these tasks! And you are welcome to contact us and get in touch! She acts as a mediator between artistic expression and public perception. Nevertheless, she is a strong supporter of the “artist’s fee”, the payment that every creator must demand in exchange for the presentation of their work. She admits that the current focus on digital art, both in Athens and internationally, can pose new challenges for artists. Her advice to them is to always seek copyright and legal support before participating in online exhibitions.

Foteini in an open coworking space

“Always reinvent yourself and be adjustable”

This is what she learned and suggests to every art worker in the post-pandemic world. There is no need for a laptop if a creative professional pursues exposure and openness, values that she found in a coworking space. For her, coworking offers inspiration through interaction without the extra layer of workplace stress. And in these crazy times, a casual chat in a safe space can be more creative than ever!   

Athens lockdown: opportunities and challenges for freelancers

Meet Ambre, our coworker from the French city of Bayonne in the Basque country! She is a copywriter and translator (English and Spanish to French) for e-shops and commercial websites. She got her first job offers through the translation and copywriting agency Textmaster and she now works for a network of regular clients and agencies that offers her a steady workflow.  We had a chance to speak with Ambre about the pros of online work and how did she cope with the spring and winter lockdowns in Athens. We also asked her how did she end up in Athens in the first place, and how did she experience the lockdowns as a freelance worker.

This is her story.  

The pros and cons of freelance work

After obtaining a Master’s degree in international purchases and logistics Ambre worked for five years, until 2017, for different companies in Paris. After evaluating the experience she gained from this kind of fixed work she decided that she needed a fresh start. She left Paris and started a small business in the fashion industry that seemed hard to succeed. So she looked for something different driven by her other passions, languages, communication, and reading. Copywriting and translation services proved a field where she felt truly comfortable.

Working as a freelancer gives Ambre the freedom she looked for. She remembers that during her previous 9 to 5 work scheme she felt stuck in a structured and hierarchical workplace. When talking about the pros of freelancing she mentions the ability to organize her free time and to write about different fields that appeal to a curious personality. When it comes to the cons she adds that in a globalized market there is competition for the same job and fewer quality offers. Before forming personal links with her clients she used to grab every opportunity. 

Ambre freelance work at Stone Soup

Picking Athens for remote work: before and during the lockdown

Ambre works remotely and she agrees with the concept of nomadic work. When she left Paris she went to Seville, Lisbon, and Bayonne before choosing Athens with her partner. She laughs remembering that she didn’t know anything about the modern city, just that it was an affordable place! They first came in January 2019 and started exploring different places in Greece. 

In March 2020 everything changed! At the beginning of the first lockdown, she was working as a content creator for a tourist journal. It was shocking when the company told the copywriters that they could not work anymore. At first, she was feeling a lot of insecurity and uncertainty. Her (already remote) work did not change but she was really bored because she had no other choice but to work! Her narration of the life during spring lockdown is revealing: “waking up, yoga, working, working, working, yoga!” Work was an escape from the fear but in a depressing way that made her feel stuck. Athens was in a cocooning phase too and Stone Soup was closed. So it was her home that was both a workplace and a safe space.

Ambre freelance work

Remote work after a calm summer: and another lockdown in autumn!

Summer was a calm and relaxing time for Ambre. Traveling to Santorini and meeting with friends was an escape from the numbness of spring. But in autumn restrictions were re-imposed again and freelance workers like her had to deal with another Athens lockdown in November. But this time both coworking and online work emerged stronger than before. She clarifies that the digitalization of small businesses drove up the demand for online content creators. As a result, autumn began with hopes up. She gets the chance to walk to Stone Soup and see friendly faces. She walks from her home in Petralona to her coworking space early in the morning and enjoys the sun rising and the quiet ambiance (fewer people and more cats on the streets!). Athens feels cozier in this controlled freedom state now.

Coworking seems like an excuse, a way to get out, take coffee breaks and feel like we are all in this together, she adds. The feeling that comes up first in her mind when she thinks about coworking is socialization!

Looking forward to a post-lockdown Athens

“PARTY HARD!” That is what Ambre misses the most! She is not a fan of the digital social life of the pandemic world and wants to see people again. Discovering more of Greece (“what about a road trip to the Peloponnese?”) is another goal along with climbing Mt Olympus! The Athenian cultural sites like the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the small bookstores are the places she cannot wait to visit again. Physical activities she used to do like yoga and volunteer teaching of English to refugees in a real classroom for the Za’atar NGO will also be more than welcome in her everyday life again. Her online work for companies like Sweet Small Pea, MonPlanCBD, and Agence Boca will feel even more exciting then. Athens will feel authentically charming again and the real-life small neighborhoods can be explored after some evening drinks with her Stone Soup friends such as Jelia! At the end of the day, we saw the limits of the digital way of living, she concludes, and it is time to re-appreciate what we miss and hope for.

Coworking empowers a lifestyle of diversity

Diversity is the product of community and collaboration blended together with openness. This is, after all, one of the key reasons people want to be part of a coworking environment. This allows them to diversify their vision and experience by collaborating with people from different backgrounds, interests, experiences, and thinking. By creating a community of experiences we try to bring together various perspectives and opinions of people who share a feeling of mutualism. 

Jelia

Jelia has always been looking for diverse experiences and new links. She has chosen Athens to be her new home and she recently joined our coworking community. Since it is one of our core values, we discussed why she is constantly seeking diversity both in her work but also in her lifestyle.

“We carry so many places within us and it’s through these places that we see everything new.”

Safe Passage Reunification

This is what it feels for Jelia when she travels to a new community and gets to meet new people. Coming from a diverse background herself, Jelia is originally from Senegal but she was born and raised in London. She is a lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers working remotely from Greece and she specializes in refugee law, human rights, and international criminal law. Working on a diverse range of issues in these areas, she provides legal assistance to unaccompanied child refugees seeking family reunification in Europe, and to victims of mass crimes seeking to access justice. Jelia joined Stone Soup in October and we had the chance to speak with her about her coworking experience in the diversity of Athens and the importance of inclusion in a community.

Travelling for diversity: Jelia’s background

Jelia studied Law and Spanish language at the University of Sheffield in the UK. She also studied in Barcelona for a year before pursuing a Master’s degree at UCL. After finishing her studies she worked abroad in different parts of the world from Argentina and Colombia to Cambodia. As a result, these travels truly enriched her vision of a world where diversity plays a core part. She first came to Greece in 2016, to work as a volunteer in the camp on Samos island. In 2018, she was able to come back to Greece for another volunteering stint, this time with Safe Passage. And that’s where her story with Athens begins.

Jelia at Stone Soup

Living in Athens: diversity seems familiar

Jelia has been living in Athens for two and a half years since then. For her, Athens is spatially diverse and is “becoming” culturally complex too. So, she loves the ecosystem of the center of the city because it is imperfect and not homogenous. Moreover, she enjoys the diversity of the urban small streets, the micro-neighborhoods, and the variety of independent coffee shops and small businesses. She also likes to cycle and walk in the area of “petroukaki”, which is the name she gave to the Petralona and Koukaki areas! In general, she highlighted the feelings of familiarity this imperfect environment creates in her. It reminds her of all the different cities she has lived in, like Buenos Aires. Driving in Greece is terrible like in Senegal too, she adds! Jelia notes that living in Athens has deepened her work because she is more directly exposed to migration. As a result, she can better understand the needs of the community she is trying to help.

Coworking in Athens: diversity in the workspace community

Jelia at Stone Soup

The choice of coworking in the diversity of Athens has offered her more work-life balance than London, she admits. The city doesn’t stress her out and meets her needs while she is trying to integrate. She decided to join a coworking space because she felt isolated and stressed working from home during the lockdown. She picked Stone Soup because the privacy she can have makes her feel settled. Now she laughs when she gets home and only has to say “Hi, flat!”. As a self-employed professional she needs both privacy and proximity to an everyday community. Her work and traveling experience add to her words about the elements she looks for in a workplace: “People always bring diversity and complexity and that enriches a community”. So, for Jelia, the coworking community should be a respectful place where people can express themselves without fear in these crazy times. She also works as a human rights consultant for the United Nations and NGOs. Her part-time work for the NGO All Survivors Project, which focuses on male survivors of sexual violence in war zones (gay, trans, non-binary), highlights the need for a safe space for everyone who challenges the norms.

Coworking for diversity in Stone Soup

The Stone Soup philosophy and Jelia’s work experience are based on the pursuit for inclusion and the expression of diversity. Here, Jelia adds, you can choose your friends because there are no office politics among the coworkers. Here, she gets to learn about tech and algorithms from Paulin and meet people who can be friends and not colleagues. She misses many things from pre-pandemic Athens though. But there is one thing she can’t wait to have once again: live concerts and drinks on the roof!

Jelia wears a mask