Inaction is also a choice, and inaction has impacts. Similarly, if you do not ask for something, it is highly unlikely you will get it. If you have self-limiting thoughts, limit those thoughts, not yourself. In essence, you must break your own glass ceiling, end self-limiting thoughts, if you want to progress and contribute.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dyan Gibbens, Founder & CEO of Trumbull Unmanned. Dyan studied engineering, instructed skydiving, and learned to fly at the US Air Force Academy. While serving as an Acquisitions Officer and engineer, she earned her MBA. Dyan then supported Air Force One and Global Hawk UAS engineering and logistics. Her PhD research in industrial engineering and management focused on unmanned systems (drones), RFID/wireless systems and computer vision/machine learning. In 2019, Google selected Dyan as 1 of 8 individuals globally for their Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) focused on AI ethics. Since 2013, Dyan has led Trumbull, a Forbes Top 25 veteran founded startup, focused on automation, data, and environmental resilience in energy and government. In 2015, Fortune named Dyan as a woman shaping the drone industry. After supporting White House Drone Workshops during the Obama and Trump administrations, Dyan supported AI and the future of work at G7-I7 as a US delegate. In 2018, Dyan started the Autonome Foundation (autonome.org) focused on human-centered AI, digital ethics, and STEM and founded multiple drone scholarships. Entrepreneur recently recognized Trumbull in 100 Brilliant Companies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?
Like most, my path is nonlinear, taking unexpected turns at unexpected times. I studied engineering, instructed skydiving, and learned to fly at the US Air Force Academy. After I transitioned from pilot training, I supported aerospace and autonomy for the better part of a decade; I wanted to use unmanned systems to improve environmental sustainability. To ensure I possessed the technical background, I focused my coursework and research as a Ph.D. candidate in industrial engineering and management on unmanned technology and integration. Coursework spanning RFID/wireless technology, computer vision/machine learning, and supply chain strategy/optimization, propelled me to start Trumbull Unmanned.
In 2013, after several moves with the Air Force, we moved to Houston. While most know Houston is the energy capital of the world, it is also renown for medicine, space, and more recently, its increasingly growing innovation ecosystem. I wanted to use unmanned systems to detect anomalies in pipeline surveys. Starting a drone and data services company at that time proved problematic as the oil and gas industry experienced an extended downturn, and we could not fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) commercially in the US. While the extended downturn slightly pivoted our initial focus, it provided an opportunity to prove the value of unmanned systems to make operations safer, more efficient, and more sustainable.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
Just as my story had unexpected turns at unexpected times, yours will too. After all, unexpected twists make stories interesting, don’t they? My lesson is to prepare for change and prepare to enjoy it. The unexpected can be far better than you hoped for or imagined.
In 2009, I was permanently medically disqualified from serving in the Air Force from a skydiving injury sustained while on the US Air Force Parachute Team, the Wings of Blue. I was devastated; all I wanted to do was serve. Though it took time, I learned I could serve in another capacity.
While I learned you could not predict the unexpected turns, you can control your response and help write your own story. As Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” And when your path may seem unclear, use virtues and values to navigate uncertainty.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Trumbull collects, analyzes, and digitizes data via drones in the energy and government sectors. Using that data, we create 3D models of critical infrastructure while digitizing the inspection process. While we are unable to discuss many of our efforts, here are a few we are excited to share.
· ExxonMobil just awarded Trumbull a contract to scale operations and inspections starting in the Americas.
· The US Department of Interior (DOI) awarded us an IDIQ contract to fly fixed-wing drones to identify, track, and fight wildfires in the West Coast of the US.
· We are discussing sensor development to enhance safety and sustainability. With Chevron and NASA JPL, we test flew methane sensors now commercialized, and helped support a dirigible intended for GPS-denied areas in explosive environments.
· We are also integrating real-time communications and unmanned technology for safer emergency response, exercises, and training.
· In addition, we are using drones with petrochemical companies for environmental sustainability.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for many. I attribute Trumbull’s continued momentum and success to clients who trust us and to individuals who support, encourage, and introduce us to partners. Those individuals are family, teammates, friends, and advisors.
· I am incredibly grateful that my father and mother help with our children when I travel.
· Working with my husband has been incredibly rewarding, it also served as free marriage counseling.
· Helen Greiner, a co-founder of iRobot, has been a role model in robotics and autonomy. I am happy to call her a colleague and a friend.
· Collaborating with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, first with Terah Lyons during the Obama Administration and then Michael Kratsios, the current US CTO leading OSTP.
In Houston, the West Point Society, specifically Anthony DeToto (SVP at Bank of America), Tim Kopra (NASA Astronaut, now Blue Bear Capital partner) and Jeff Reamer (Post Cove), have been gracious to take up the cause of an Air Force grad.
· Alice — is not a person. Alice uses AI to enable and empower female entrepreneurs.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
In many cases, we can only imagine the beneficial impacts we will encounter from AI. Each benefit could become a detriment if we exclude common sense, oversight, and appropriate collaboration. I am excited about many areas, as well as the massive increase in computing power. A few ongoing, potential, and promising advancements follow in:
· Healthcare. Preventative/predictive analysis/diagnosis. The innovation in healthcare that AI enables is inspiring and will have multi-generational impacts.
· Energy. Modeling/analysis can enhance sustainability and environmental initiatives. Advanced AI and robotics will continue to augment and replace more of the dull, dirty, and dangerous roles and support prescriptive maintenance.
· Transportation. From autonomous vehicles (air, ground, and sea), I am excited to see more of a focus transporting actual cargo to build reliability metrics before transporting the most precious cargo, human cargo. We can pursue both safety and innovation in parallel.
· AI and robotics “for good” remain ideal tools to engage the next generations of STEM. This includes various domains spanning biotech to space.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
Just as with beneficial impacts, we can only imagine the detrimental impacts we will encounter from AI. Common focus areas including algorithmic fairness, accountability and transparency, how we weight intentions versus outcomes (e.g. how the accuracy of prediction could impact human liberties), and ensuring equitable access to the value of AI are all important.
· We do not fully understand how this technology will be used, including the intended use as well as second and third-order ethical impacts.
· As an example, how the level of job displacement or augmentation will ensue and how we can best posture for what may start as a modest change of displacement to what could be a rapid onset of change. Many differing opinions exist on the displacement of “white collar” and “blue collar” jobs and options to retrain, prepare, or upskill workforces when possible.
· Entities who advance AI the fastest may take advantage in undesirable or unintended ways.
· We also do not fully understand how nefarious actors may use AI or how to prepare for threats we cannot yet imagine, often discussed in the “AI Arms Race” metaphor.
· How will we continue to build and maintain trust with AI technology, companies. countries, etc.?
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?
While many debates span the spectrum from informative to divisive, I hope healthy, constructive debates continue. When differing viewpoints collide, it develops a range of possible outcomes. For me, instead of worrying, I prepare and scenario plan. It allows me to deconstruct complex issues, plan courses of action, and assess risk and reward of solutions.
For perspective, I recommend individuals read the NYT article, Bostrom’s Superintelligence, and Part 1 & 2 of “Wait But Why” on Superintelligence. My position is that I see a problem when we are not debating, and when we are not preparing. Though the two positions span optimistic-realistic and pessimistic-realistic, I want both types of people on my team.
As humans, we are fallible. Any technology can be used for well-intended or ill-intended purposes. When and where able, we must build trust and set bounds. I aim to be a trusted technologist, using trusted technology. In any case, we must look at the intent, purpose, and access to AI as well as potential impacts on human agency, ethical implications, and unintended consequences (not just first-order, but second-order and beyond),
What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?
In assuring the public, saying and doing can be two starkly different courses of action. Similarly, saying not to worry and saying not to prepare are two starkly different recommendations. With any rapidly evolving technology, education, preparation, and responsible innovation are key. While AI is not new, and ethics are not new, I am pleased to see a continued collaborative focus between government, industry, and academia on guidelines, standards, and protocols. In 2017, I attended G7-I7 in Turin, Italy as a U.S. delegate where AI and the Future of Work were key focus areas.
I have not discussed the Google Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) publicly since being disbanded in April. First, I applaud Google for developing AI principles, seeking diverse perspectives, and creating a council to discuss and advance ethical AI. I enjoy learning new perspectives and, as much as practical, making informed decisions. To me, choosing to accept the role was a clear yes. Supporting and informing ethical AI at Google, or any impactful tech company, is essential. Not supporting one of the most impactful concepts, with one of the most impactful companies, at one of the most impactful times could be considered negligent to future generations. To progress as a society, we must be open to have conversations and work with differing perspectives.
I am pleased large tech companies, academia, and governments are developing documentation standards to increase transparency from AI with the entities such as the Partnership on AI and others. With any democratic regulatory framework or industry guidelines, it is important to be careful with guidelines that may thwart innovation or are perhaps too broad in nature.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
Empowering the next generation of scientists and engineers to use technology to solve our most technically challenging problems has been a passion of mine. In 2015, Trumbull created a free weeklong Drone Camp with BP at Rice University focused on underserved youth. Along with BP and Trumbull, Microsoft supported Drone Camp.
In 2016, Trumbull started development of a curriculum for Intel’s global STEM program, Innovation Generation. In 2018, I started The Autonome Foundation (autonome.org), focused on human-centered AI, digital ethics, and STEM empowerment. Autonome is working with new STEM partners, NASA Johnson Space Center — Space Center Houston and others.
This past year, autonome.org supported a Yale STEM event for underrepresented youth, Houston Independent School District (HISD) at the Energy Drone & Robotics Summit, as well as an EcoBot Challenge at NASA Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston. We have more events planned with energy and tech companies.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
To thrive, as Arianna says, sleep! And turn off your phone at night! After that starting point, here are 3 things:
1. To me, confidence comes with competence. You can learn almost anything for free from through excellent online content. Connect with more women and men you respect and trust in your desired field to determine which lectures, podcasts, and papers to read. Also, find several examples of women and men with traits you aim to emulate. Use each day to refine and improve so you can serve as an example for someone else. This process is ongoing for me.
2. To make an impact, you must have a commitment to serve and the courage to act. A mentor at the Air Force Academy shared we have potential and kinetic leadership, or in essence what you know and what you do. Take this in three ways.
· To students, remember that you attend school to learn. You learn how you learn, your interests, and hopefully your strengths. Knowing that, do not be afraid or ashamed to ask questions. And if someone asks a question, do not shame them. We can all relate on some level.
· To the workplace, AI will continue to permeate every industry. Find your specialty, continue to gain competence and confidence, and act. It does not matter what you know if you do not act.
· Inaction is also a choice, and inaction has impacts. Similarly, if you do not ask for something, it is highly unlikely you will get it. If you have self-limiting thoughts, limit those thoughts, not yourself. In essence, you must break your own glass ceiling, end self-limiting thoughts, if you want to progress and contribute.
3. Play a different game. A male mentor once told me when Angelina Jolie was asked if she wanted to play the next Bond Girl, she answered she would play Bond. Change the game.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
· Ask women. Since women are engaged by different approaches, incorporate different methods, then measure desired changes. Many entities are taking a fairly obvious and promising step in establishing a welcome and inclusive environment, which is good to see.
· Seek to gain insight as to why women may transition out of AI or tech in general. When men and women are performing and focused on outcomes, consider part-time, remote, or flexible arrangements.
· This advice is on criticism, and not only for women. In most instances, constructive criticism can result in far better outcomes than criticism alone. Most people want to improve and need clear, constructive feedback. With a view towards progress, aim to be convicting, not condescending.
· In my career, I have observed leaders in industry, government, and academia deal with failure in many ways. At times, it is difficult to accept failure. Last night, I read the book Rosie Revere Engineer to my daughter. In the story, Rosie builds various contraptions she invents, and she recounts two failures. In one, Rosie’s uncle laughed at her failure in amusement and she felt embarrassed and dismayed. In the other, Rosie’s aunt laughed at her failure in delight and surprise. Except her aunt highlighted one positive aspect that before her plane crashed, for a second, it flew. Focus on the progress and, when able, let failure propel you forward.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
At the US Air Force Academy, we memorize a series of leadership quotes during our freshman year. I am happy to say with my 15-year reunion this fall, and these two quotes continue to ring true.
“There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” General George C. Marshall
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” President Theodore Roosevelt
Remember, you are in the arena. While you should invite constructive criticism, and it is difficult to improve without it, understand when to ignore the noise. This quote is a potent reminder to have the courage and commitment to act.
Brene Brown, who studies vulnerability and shame (University of Houston), brought significant attention to this timeless quote in a Ted Talk and book Daring Greatly. This quote also embodies failing fast and failing forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
When vision and values align, you can accomplish almost anything. I encourage individuals to find common ground to take collective action. While you may disagree in many ways, you can agree on at least one way to serve others.
When individuals gather and contribute to empowering efforts, we first focus on areas everyone can get behind to support. We can act on 80% in common while choosing to build relationships to improve 20% in differences.
Until we run out of problems to solve, we must take collective action. Whether it is improving education or sustainability, remember movements start small. Just as inaction is a choice, so is love.
Be a catalyst for change, a force for good, and a source of light.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!