The gatekeepers to innovation may question whether someone named Jennifer or Patricia can be inventors–a study out of the Yale School of Management found that men were more likely to see their patent applications approved than women, but that this disparity decreased for women with less traditionally female names. Those at the U.S. Patent Office may reconsider their assumptions after checking out the 2018 MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators under 35. For the first time in the list’s nearly 20-year history, the majority of young innovators are women.
From working to make electricity more accessible to building smarter robots, the 18 women on this list are proving that creativity is not gender-based, at a time when still nearly 80 percent of patents are given to men. Meet five visionary women with some of the most groundbreaking ideas for reshaping our world.
1. Elizabeth Nyeko, Modularity Grid, 34
Nyeko is working to make sure rural communities in Africa have electricity — sustainably. She has developed a mini-grid to serve the areas that are too expensive for national grids to cover. But unlike others available, which can overproduce electricity, Nyeko’s Modularity Grid is a cloud-based platform that can predict consumption and redirect excess to where it is needed.
2. Shehar Bano, Tackling State Censorship, 31
Bano was frustrated with the state-censorship in her native Pakistan that prevented access to websites like YouTube. So as a computer science postdoctoral researcher at University College London, she conducted the first systematic study of state censorship on the internet. Her research has led to not only a better understanding of how such systems work but several workarounds for people in need of unfettered access to the web.
3. Hera Hussain, Chayn, 28
Hussain is the founder of Chayn, an online platform for women seeking resources for how to handle domestic violence–including how to build a case without a lawyer. Chayn is an open-source medium for survivors and experts to share their knowledge, which she found is often either entirely missing or incredibly biased.
4. Joy Buolamwini, Algorithmic Justice League, 28
Buolamwini founded the Algorithmic Justice League, which aims to take down bias in machine learning. As a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, Buolamwini has found that AI is significantly better at recognizing the faces of lighter skin males than darker-skinned females (compare error rates of 1 percent and 35 percent, respectively). Already a Rhodes Scholar and Fulbright Fellow, Boulamwini isn’t stopping until the technology becoming increasingly part of societal institutions is representative of all people.
5. Chelsea Finn, Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Lab, 25
A challenge of many robots on the market is their limited skill sets: they can only do tasks they have been programed to do. But Finn’s robots are changing this. They learn how by watching and repeating, just as toddlers copy adults. If Finn, a PhD student at UC Berkeley, is successful, we will have a generation of robots that require less programming and have broader skill sets.