Distinguished Leader Award Recipient, Jennifer Chayes

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The combination of ethics, medicine, and technology are finally catching up with Jennifer Chayes. The 2018 MassTLC Distinguished Leader award recipient has been so far ahead of the curve her whole life that she has invented new fields of discovery across multiple disciplines. From doing math and logic puzzles at the age of four to her current work as a Technical Fellow and a Managing Director at Microsoft Research, mathematics, logic, and problem solving have been core to Jennifer’s work and passions.

Jennifer’s list of accomplishments is vast. From her groundbreaking work as an inventor of the field of graph limits—or graphons—to her roles on numerous institute boards and committees, she has had a remarkable impact on the use of mathematics to understand complex systems and improve the world around us. Three of her current projects—working with Stand Up to Cancer, developing artificial intelligence (AI) that has less bias than humans, and participating in the Heidelberg Laureate Forum that brings diverse students from all over the world to meet with leading scientists and mathematicians—highlight these facets of Jennifer’s work as well as how the world has finally caught up to her passions.

Stand Up to Cancer creates interdisciplinary teams that connect top-tier scientists, clinicians, patient advocates, and other experts across institutions to expedite the discovery process for new cancer treatments. Utilizing AI to understand biological and genomic networks can help identify which immunotherapy drugs will work for which people. Working on this has enabled Jennifer to pursue a passion that started in her undergraduate days when she thought she might study medicine. At the time, computational biology was not a robust field, so Jennifer switched her focus to physics. Now that computational technology drives so much of the life sciences and medicine, Jennifer has returned to her early passion in medicine in a highly impactful area.

Jennifer has always loved the combination of law and ethics.  She respected the logic of legal arguments and the effort to eliminate bias and concentrate on facts. With the rise of AI, ethics has become a central concern for ethicists given that machine learning can produce outputs that are even more biased than those produced by human judgment. Among Jennifer’s projects in addressing this bias is the creation of what she terms “greenlining” algorithms, whose purpose is to be inclusive (versus “redlining,” whose purpose is to exclude).  This area of FATE (fairness, accountability, transparency, and ethics) is also allowing Jennifer to return to a former passion of finding ways to reach logical and fair decisions .

Jennifer is actively involved in the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, where leading mathematics and computer science thinkers connect with a highly diverse set of undergraduates, graduate PhD candidates, and postdoctoral researchers. The young attendees come from over 60 countries at all stages of economic development and represent diverse cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, religions, and interests. For Jennifer, nurturing the next generation of thinkers is both important and enjoyable, and the hundreds of students and interns that she has mentored are the proof of that importance.

Please join us on October 3rd to celebrate with, and hear from, Jennifer Chayes herself.