Black History Month

Calvin Lawrence: A Distinguished Engineer Who Says Dream Higher

Calvin Lawrence is a Distinguished Engineer and Chief Architect for Cognitive Computing and Innovation for IBM Global Markets. Calvin was raised in the Atlanta area, where he grew up in the projects in an impoverished community that was riddled with crime. The contrast of having a sometimes adversarial relationship with law enforcement, while also seeing the benefits of government assistance shaped his mindset and informs his commitment today to using tech for good.

As an IBMer working in artificial intelligence, Calvin is keenly aware of the Black experience in the tech space, and how technology can be misused. “For instance,” he notes, “if an automated voice bot called my mother up on the phone, using technology you could easily determine that she's a Black woman over the age of 70 and live in a certain zip code.

From this information the bot could be trained to restrict, restrain and deny her or make her overpay for goods and services. As a Black technologist, I know this, mainly because I understand how the technology works and how easily biases can be implemented.” As such, Calvin feels that the Black technology experience comes with a unique obligation, one that he readily accepts.

“I get an opportunity to work with a lot of emerging technology, a lot of research technology, and apply it in different geos,” he says. This work is important to Calvin, he says, because it is in keeping with his mission to use his IBM role as an engine for change.  “My goal is to try and drive change because I can sympathize with the community,” he notes.

Looking at where he is today, versus the struggles of his childhood, Calvin says he wishes he had the chance to tell his younger self that, despite his circumstances, his dreams are not out of reach. And he is grateful that his children do not feel those same restrictions.

“As a young boy, I didn’t have a dream” he says. “Being a distinguished engineer at IBM was never a goal. My daughter has wanted to be a vet since she was five years old. And now she’s applying to veterinary school. But that wasn’t my world. So if I had to tell the younger Calvin something, it would be, ‘Dream. Because you have the capacity to meet those dreams.’”