Jorge Calderon is managing director at San Francisco–based Inicio Ventures, an initiative of Hispanics in Philanthropy.
Over the last 25 years, I’ve been a tech investor, founder, organizer, strategist and academic. I’m proud to be part of a growing group of diverse leaders shaping an innovation system that represents and benefits us all. But in recent months, I’ve become increasingly troubled by the absence of Latinx/e founders and leaders in today’s critically important conversations about AI’s growth and regulation.
As AI’s presence in our lives increases, so does the number of diverse founders leveraging it to develop positive, socially impactful services and products. Because their unique life experiences inform these founders’ ingenuity, their startups often address critical social needs. When diverse founders succeed, society benefits.
Yet their voices and perspectives remain largely absent from policy discussions and decisions that will shape the future of AI and its influence on our society.
Unfortunately, such exclusion is part of a broader pattern within the startup and venture ecosystem. Those of Latinx/e heritage in the U.S. account for more than 20% of the U.S. population; they’ve founded half of all new businesses over the last decade (19% of which are tech-related), and contribute $3.2 trillion annually to the nation’s economy. As a group, they represent the fifth-largest economy in the world.
As AI’s presence in our lives increases, so does the number of diverse founders leveraging it to develop positive, socially impactful services and products.
Yet, despite their entrepreneurial talent and determination, Latinx/e founders remain overlooked and undervalued, receiving less than 2% of startup investment funding. Even when they receive it, it’s typically just a fraction of what’s awarded to their non-Hispanic counterparts.
While historically underestimated, Latinx/e Americans are persevering and preparing to be a significant force in the U.S.’ future. Latinx/e college enrollment has more than doubled since 2000, and enrollment in science and engineering programs has grown by 65% over the last 10 years.
Guillermo Diaz Jr., former CIO of Cisco, called today’s intersection of AI and tech with surging Latinx/e education, economic power, and employment “a light-speed moment,” noting that an increase in Latinx/e technology leadership means a far more prosperous U.S.A.
When it comes to AI regulation, I understand and share some commonly voiced concerns and appreciate the recent clamor for quick regulation. But I don’t understand Latinx/e and diverse groups’ exclusion from the regulatory conversation.
Last year, the Biden administration discussed AI regulations with leaders from companies like Open AI, Google, Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, and a handful of academics and advocates. But this group was too narrow. Underrepresented communities and our allies generally have a nuanced outlook on AI.
On one hand, we are rightly concerned that AI technologies could perpetuate bias and discrimination. On the other, we are eager to ensure that diverse communities, founders, consumers and all Americans can benefit from AI’s many positive potential implementations. Regulations made without broad, nuanced perspectives could diminish AI’s benefits to diverse communities, leading to worse social and economic outcomes for everyone.
Discussions about AI’s growth and regulation are fundamentally discussions about the future of society, and diverse groups will play a key role in that future. Before regulators finalize any significant policy changes, diverse, visionary startup founders and leaders should be engaged in discussing how to simultaneously develop an appropriate regulatory framework for AI technology while also creating the conditions to encourage diverse founders to have a say and play a meaningful role in the evolution of AI.
In addition to creating thoughtful guardrails, policymakers should also be ideating about incentives like tax credits, STEM education grants, and training and recruitment programs to create pathways for diverse groups’ increased representation, contributions, and success within the growing AI sector.
Like any transformative technology, advanced AI has risks and incredible positive potential for all. That means lawmakers need all of us to provide input to AI-related policies. It is imperative that they include diverse startup founders and leaders as they consider the AI incentives and regulations that will shape our collective future.