AI Modeling on the Brain: Designing Gender Equal Large Language Models


Wang Bolun and Zhou Peng are the dynamic co-founders of LuxiTech, a leading AI large language model firm in China. As CEO and CTO, they're not just tech innovators; they are also strong proponents of gender equality. In 2023, Dr. Zhou Peng was honored with the prestigious IEEE Darlington Award for her groundbreaking work in memristor technology and spiking neural networks. Their vision for LuxiTech goes beyond mere technological advancement; they aim to make AI language models affordable, adaptable, inclusive, and beneficial across all sectors of society.

Thank you to both of you for sharing your stories with us! To start off, can you tell us about how your upbringing and any role models in your families influenced your choices to follow STEM education and career paths?

Wang Bolun (Hereinafter as “Bolun”): My father was my inspiration. Despite his disability from polio and his rural upbringing, he was a firm believer in education's transformative power. This belief propelled him into the field of automation and electronics, all the way to his studies at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST). His post-graduate journey took him from Beijing to Shenzhen, where he co-founded an automation company, undertaking both the roles of CTO and CEO. His resilience and willingness to embrace new challenges deeply influenced me. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams. My mother, although a stay-at-home mom, instilled in me the value of financial independence for women, drawing from her own life experiences.

Zhou Peng (Hereinafter as “Peng”): Coming from Changsha, Hunan province, my parents came from a mixture of backgrounds - both STEM and non-STEM — my father was a geologist, and my mother was a lawyer. Nonetheless, they fostered an environment of exploration and encouragement rather than imposing specific learning paths. My passion for engineering emerged through self-discovery, fueled by my fascination with the natural world and innovations like electric cars. This interest wasn't just about personal achievement; it was about creating broader value.

During this process, I have to highlight my mother, an English major turned lawyer, who stands out as my idol. Commanding respect despite her petite stature, she is a role model for balancing a successful career with family responsibilities, and is often sought after for advice by our relatives. Her ability to establish her own law firm while providing substantial support to me exemplifies her strength and capacity to balance professional and personal life. This has profoundly shaped my belief in the capabilities of women, empowering me with the confidence that women can achieve anything they set their minds to.


Could you both share what you find most captivating about your work?

Peng: We are architects of large language models.  This is different from companies who build one or more models with existing architectures. We focus on revolutionizing AI architectures so that all AI models – especially those that are not built by us but which utilize our computational methods and modeling strategies – operate with higher efficiency, faster computational speed, and less energy consumption.

Our technological revolution is grounded in a new and evolving discipline – neuromorphic computing. This approach draws inspiration from the human brain across various dimensions, including devices, semiconductors, chips, and algorithms, aiming to integrate these brain-inspired concepts into our models. We operate at the forefront of a multidisciplinary nexus that spans brain science, neuroscience, cognitive science, engineering, and computer science.

The realm of large language models stands at the vanguard of artificial intelligence, poised to revolutionize every industry. As one of the leaders in this domain, we take pride in our contributions and are committed to fostering gender equality and demographic diversity in the field, aiming to bolster female participation in both academic and industry revolutions.

Bolun: At the heart of the AI evolution, large language models lead the charge, encapsulating a vast repository of knowledge. Our ambition is to continually expand the boundaries of data parameters, which serve as the foundation for learning and societal advancement. The data is crucial for this development. However, we recognize that existing models carry inherent gender biases, stemming from male-dominated creation processes.

Our commitment to gender equality extends beyond company interests to ensuring the inclusive application of technology globally. For instance, our collaboration with automakers highlights gender disparities in safety designs, like airbag effectiveness. Additionally, we address biases in social media algorithms to ensure equitable content distribution. Our company, named "LuXi" after “Lucy”, the first walking human, poses as a tribute to the ancient Chinese poetry “Chuci” to reflect our desire to honor legacy while pushing forward with innovation.


How have you navigated the reality of women  being notably underrepresented in your field and leadership roles? Have you encountered pressure or skepticism, and what's your stance on holding such positions?

Peng: The fact that we are female founders of a technological company is actually an advantage. My role leans more towards academic and technical endeavors, areas where women are significantly more scarce. The inclusion of female perspectives in AI, a field already limited in female representation, is something I view positively. Despite initial perceptions that might underestimate us due to our gender or youth, our expertise and dedication invariably earn us respect and recognition.

Bolun: My role is predominantly external, focusing on business and marketing where women are even less common. I frequently find myself wondering if I could encounter another woman in a professional setting, and it's always encouraging when I actually do. Interestingly, my name often leads to mistaken assumptions about my gender before meetings, revealing entrenched gender biases.

In my experience, when facing skepticism, it is key to respond with expertise and resilience. Women, having navigated numerous challenges from a young age, develop a formidable resilience. We approach challenges with a balanced mix of gentleness and firmness, demonstrating patience and resolve even under scrutiny or discomfort.


Reflecting on your experiences, do you believe there are inherent advantages to being male in your field, and how do you perceive your role as female pioneers in altering industry perceptions and addressing gender-related issues?

Bolun: The perceived advantage of being male, such as fitting a certain stereotype at first glance, might initially seem beneficial, but this advantage quickly fades in significance over time. Our efforts have consistently aimed at shifting perceptions towards recognizing that intellectual capacity and leadership are not gender-specific. We advocate for meritocracy in filling leadership roles, and our company exemplifies this with women constituting over half of our workforce. We also emphasize that parenting is a shared duty, advocating for a balanced approach to family responsibilities. This philosophy extends to our recruitment process, where we support and accommodate the needs of women, reflecting our commitment to gender equality from our company's inception.

Peng: Traditional gender roles, while historically grounded, are being reconsidered as society evolves to value intellectual contribution over physical capability. This shift necessitates a reevaluation of family and professional roles to support a balanced model for both men and women. Critics like Jordan Peterson reference historical contexts that no longer align with our current societal dynamics.

Nobel Laureate Claudia Goldin's insights on the efficiency-driven division of labor within families, while once pragmatic, now challenge us to foster a more inclusive work environment that supports women. This involves addressing the broader societal impacts of individual family choices, which, while seemingly optimal on a personal level, may not align with societal best interests.


Recently, there has been increased attention on women's entrepreneurship in the STEM sector. Based on your experiences, do you perceive that women encounter extra obstacles in launching startups within the STEM field?

Bolun: The challenges women encounter in STEM entrepreneurship are not exclusively related to the fields themselves but are reflective of broader societal attitudes toward women. For instance, concerns about an employee's potential maternity leave are indicative of wider societal biases, not problems unique to women in STEM. While we can advocate for a more gender-friendly policy in our workplace, this might constitute a concern for our investors. Such issues underscore the pervasive challenges women face across all sectors, and will take a longer time to change.


What support do you think is crucial for women pursuing start-ups in science and innovation?

Bolun: Comprehensive support — financial, resourceful, and emotional — is vital for women entrepreneurs in STEM. My commitment extends to making a tangible difference in the lives of women we encounter, emphasizing the importance of role models, advocating for gender equality, and striving to eliminate discrimination. Emotional support, in particular, is crucial, ensuring that challenges are addressed empathetically within our company and beyond. Additionally, equitable distribution of family care responsibilities, supported by both national policies and corporate initiatives like flexible work arrangements and childcare facilities, can significantly impact women's participation.

Peng: I notice that there is a gender discord going on in society, reinforced by stereotypes that perpetuate biases and hinder mutual respect. This polarization underscores the importance of promoting gender equality and building an inclusive environment. By challenging stereotypes and fostering respect, we can cultivate a workplace and society where individuals, irrespective of gender, are valued for their unique contributions.


Exactly, it is very important to involve both men and women in these conversations to foster support, learning, and growth. What’s your personal experience in working across the gender divide?

Bolun: My father, a man of simplicity and resilience, has been my lifelong role model; while at the same time, my presence as the first daughter in a family of sons transformed him. This mutual influence extended to both business practices and personal development. I remember as a child I once urged him to create a world more friendly to women—a vision he took to heart, evidenced by the daycare he established for the children of his employees. His support was instrumental during my return to China, where I encountered peers struggling with career progression amid pregnancy and child-rearing challenges. Collaborating on a pilot project for flexible labor, we addressed the layoffs of female workers during the pandemic by introducing flexible employment. This initiative not only supported women, particularly mothers, in securing income but also proved beneficial for my father’s company, adapting its workforce in response to fluctuating demands and contributing to a more female-friendly environment.


For women who are hesitant about entering the STEM field or those already within it seeking advice or support, what message would you like to convey?

Bolun: Not everyone has the privilege to pursue their passions freely; many face constrained choices. In such contexts, I emphasize the importance of financial independence, particularly because the STEM fields often offer a clear path to achieving it. This isn’t just about pursuing a career in STEM; it’s about ensuring you have the foundation to explore your interests freely. STEM is accessible to everyone and is not bound by gender; the challenge lies in the effort, not intelligence. Achieving financial independence in STEM is feasible and forms a crucial step towards independence in society.

Peng: For those who feel limited in their options or daunted by the complexity of STEM, it's vital to recognize the vastness and diversity within STEM fields. They span a wide range of subjects and lead to numerous employment opportunities across different societal roles. STEM education equips you with fundamental skills that are applicable in a variety of jobs, not all of which require advanced specialization. The evolution of human achievement, from the use of tools and understanding of basic sciences to the revolutions in industry, electricity, and now AI, underscores the pivotal role of STEM in progress. It’s about building on this legacy to unlock even greater discoveries, such as exploring the cosmos, deciphering the mysteries of black holes, and unraveling the intricacies of the human mind and consciousness. STEM is a gateway to endless exploration and understanding, offering meaningful contributions at any level.    


Wang Bolun and Zhou Peng are members of the STEM4ALL STEMinist network. You can read more inspiring stories, find employment and education opportunities, and discover useful resources by exploring the STEM4ALL platform.