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Technologist and inventor Joanna Ng's talent is such that she is sometimes able to write the entire code for an AI solution in her mind’s eye. But her gifts are for “an audience of One”, says Joanna. Screenshot from the video series Leadership Conversations with Miles Toulmin by Alpha Asia Pacific.

In a world where only 5% of tech start-up founders and less than 4% of patent-owners are female, Joanna Ng stands out in more ways than one.

Ng, who has 45 patents to her name, worked for IBM for 35 years and was given the prestigious title of Master Inventor for her pioneering work in the internet of things, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies.

She is the founder of an AI start-up that specialises in augmented cognition and intelligent virtual assistants.

But, to her, humility is key in leadership: “Because nothing that I have ever done – none of the patents, papers or so-called ‘accomplishments’ – were not enabled by God.”

Finding her gifting 

Ng was born into a traditional Chinese family from Hong Kong who moved to Canada when she was young. Achievements and career successes were not how you would win “brownie points” from her parents, she says.

Rather, she got approval by staying “quiet, invisible and in the background” while being compliant and keeping her opinions to herself.

“Transforming from what was ingrained in me as a Chinese girl, from my family of origin, was a supernatural transformation.”

“Your ideas and opinions don’t matter. You honour the family by marrying well and, most importantly, by giving birth to a son – which I never got to do,” says Ng, who has two daughters.

“Transforming from what was ingrained in me as a Chinese girl, from my family of origin, was a supernatural transformation.”

She had grown up wanting to become a psychologist. But, after an encounter with God at the end of her first year in university, Ng realised that she had a particular gifting in computer sciences.

Ng says: “Basically, the Lord opened up my eyes.”

For Ng, it had “everything to do with walking through a process of healing, of rejecting the lies, of stepping into the identity in Christ and hearing from the Holy Spirit. Anchoring my entire self in Him”.

“If it wasn’t because of Jesus’ redemption, I would still be living in the lies about a person’s identity, let alone a woman’s identity, that was not what God had intended for me.”

Co-creating with God

Though Ng sees her role of inventor as a God-given ability where she is co-creating with God – she is sometimes able to see and write the entire code for an AI solution in her mind’s eye –  she is clear that she does this for “an audience of One”.

“It’s less about you, and more about the people whom Jesus died for.”

“Be aware of the battle for glory,” says Ng, who warns that it is “so real” in the technology world.

Challenge yourself: Is it your glory or the Lord’s?

“Then you do things differently. It’s less about you, and more about the people whom Jesus died for.”

In the second episode of the Leadership Conversations video series by Alpha Asia Pacific, Joanna Ng shares valuable insights on how she is living out her calling as one of the few Christian female tech-leads in a male-dominated and largely atheist industry.

This excerpt of the Leadership Conversations interview is published by Salt&Light in collaboration with Alpha Asia Pacific.

How do you think God has used you as a woman in your industry?

I believe that, with the Father’s wisdom, He turns our wounds, our brokenness and our ashes into double-portion blessings.

“Not that every sentence ends in an ‘amen’ … but people need to see the presence of God in how we carry it.”

My journey of transformation enabled me to mentor a lot of other people.

So one way to give back is through mentoring. Through this, correcting the lies about your being, it becomes a very easy open door to the Gospel. Because we cannot talk about being without talking about Who created us. It is very, very important.

And that’s why we gather the Christians in the tech world, in this very atheist-dominating industry, that we need to be Daniels.

Not that every sentence ends in an “amen”, and not that in every sentence, we sneak in Jesus. But people need to see the presence of God in how we carry it.

How do we carry God’s presence into the work that we do? 

It goes back to calling, which is the anchor point.

The calling really is nothing more than this: When God created me, He had an intention in mind, God prepared good work ahead of time, especially for me to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

“Where does the anointing of your calling come from?”

For example, if I were to switch to become a medical doctor, I probably wouldn’t be in that anointing because He didn’t wire me for that.

So the reason I talked about the calling is: Where does the anointing come from?

I could do a lot of things that I am not anointed for.

Art is another one. My daughter is an artist. We are smart in different ways; I’m just not smart in your way.

The anointing and the calling is the base.

How do we worship God with our gifts?

To worship is to honour God with what He’s given me.

“Sometimes when I finish a piece of work, I’ll ask God: ‘Are You proud of me? What do You think?'”

Instead of arguing with Him, worship is accepting His sovereign will of creating who I am with this anointing and then doing the work by worshipping Him.

It’s like what Eric Liddell said: “God made me fast and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

And so when I do work, I do it as a worship, for an audience of One.

And sometimes, when I finish a piece of work, I’ll ask Him: “Are You proud of me? What do You think?”

And that’s honour and worship with the work of my hands and my intellect.

What does a divine partnership with God look like?

There is a divine partnership, a divine wisdom.

Many times I experienced ideas or notions or thoughts that are foreign.

Because you’re in a certain field, you already have a certain mindset. And then, voila! Oh, where did that come from?

“Daniel gave God the credit, he never took it.” 

When it’s foreign to your thinking framework, then you know it is from the Lord because it’s like … so smart! Like as if it wasn’t me.

And it wasn’t.

That’s a very enjoyable process.

But then when you ask and He answers, then you have to do the Daniel thing, which is Daniel acknowledging: “This is not mine. This is from the Lord.” (Daniel 2:27-28)

He gave God the credit, he never took it. 

Can you share some of the ethical challenges in the AI industry?

I wrote an article: How Artificial Super Intelligence Is Today’s Tower of Babel. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for five or six years.

Artificial super intelligence (ASI) is the notion that you create this super powerful computer called Singleton that will know the every data of everything and everyone around the world and be able to make the decision as a super powerful Singleton.

“I don’t put wisdom and intelligence in the same category.”

We are not there yet.

One level lower is called artificial general intelligence (AGI), which is where the level of intelligence of a machine is equivalent to a human.

We are still not there yet – it’s still machine learning.

But I am a bit mad at that agenda. I feel that it is insulting God and mankind.

It’s insulting God because it insults the intricacy of how He made man. It’s insulting mankind because it is totally devaluing the capability of man.

Man, if you look at Thessalonians, is not just the body. He is body, mind and spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

The intelligence is the mind. Even trying to clone that would be very, very difficult to achieve in Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

“Wisdom gets to the ‘why’ and intelligence doesn’t give you the ‘why’.”

There is so much intricacy to be able to achieve that. And to say that it will surpass the wisdom of the spirit is completely disrespectful to the wisdom of the spirit.

To me, man being the embodiment of the divine wisdom of God is way more intriguing than AI being the embodiment of mankind’s intelligence.

I don’t put wisdom and intelligence in the same category.

Wisdom is a different category.

Intelligence is way below, because it’s just a way of processing information and the capacity of information you have.

Versus wisdom.

Wisdom gets to the “why” and intelligence doesn’t give you the “why”.

That’s the one major reason I wrote that article.

“AI is a very good lead-in to share the Gospel because then we have to talk about: What is Man?”

Now, don’t me wrong. I’m in the industry, I know there are a lot of things where machine is more capable than man. There is no doubt.

The volume of data it can process and the accuracy. No doubt.

But that’s not the world.

That’s why I compared it to the Tower of Babel because man is trying to seek supremacy from Singleton and man is trying to self-glorify: “I’m smart. My intelligence is surpassing all the intelligence that God made me to have.”

But that is not true.

And then Man wanted to be independent of God.

I find that AI is a very good lead-in to share the Gospel because then we have to talk about: What is Man?

So my warning in the article is that, if we pour all the scarcities of resources on AI to chase after ASI, then we might have a very costly opportunity cost, instead of using AI to solve real-world problems and transform the world like electricity did.


Watch an excerpt of the interview where Ng “connected the dots” that led to her calling as a leader in technology:

This excerpt has been republished, with permission, in collaboration with Alpha Asia Pacific. 

Alpha is a way to inspire and equip churches to create a space where people from any background can encounter Jesus.

Find out more on their website or watch the full 30-minute interview with Joanna Ng here.


MORE STORIES ON CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP:

“I’m the senior pastor of the church of VMware”: CEO Pat Gelsinger

“Could Big Data be something evangelical?” challenge visionaries Jeff Cheong and Dr Freddy Boey

“Throw ourselves into the digital world because that’s where God is”: ChristianX 2019

About the author

Alpha Asia Pacific

Leadership Conversations with Miles Toulmin is a series of video interviews with leading Asian church leaders from around Asia Pacific, who share their strategies and vision on evangelisation, church revitalisation, social transformation as well as practical leadership advice.

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