Alum of the Month

May 2024 Alum of the Month: Dr. Abby Fanlo Susk ’12
Hotchkiss Alum of the Month May 2024 Abby Fanlo

Dr. Abby Fanlo Susk ’12 found inspiration for her career in responsible AI and technology governance from a Hotchkiss course linking history to politics. She now serves as the policy and strategy lead in the Responsible Artificial Intelligence Division within the U.S. Department of Defense’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, which sits within the broader Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Fanlo and her colleagues oversee the development and implementation of department-wide guidance to ensure AI systems are aligned with ethical principles.

Fanlo “fell in love with Hotchkiss” after visiting several schools, and she found the faculty to be “quite remarkable.” Tom Flemma’s U.S. history course planted the seeds that would guide her academic journey. “He validated my love for history and showed me how it could help me understand the political world. He taught me how to craft an effective argument, marshaling historical evidence to explain particular political phenomena. I still remember being extremely proud of an essay I wrote for him on Jacksonian Democracy and the Era of the Common Man.”

She praised Charlie Frankenbach P’12,’16, the Russel Murray Bigelow Teaching Chair, interim dean of faculty, instructor in English, and Lufkin Prize recipient, for bringing out her creativity “by mixing storytelling with literary analysis.” Looking back fondly at her time on campus, she continued, “I’m half Cuban, and Ana Hermoso P’16 taught me to read and analyze Spanish literature like Cien Años de Soledad and La Sombra del Viento!”

After minoring in military history and majoring in political science at Stanford University, Fanlo entered the university’s Ph.D. program in political science, where she also earned an M.A. She received a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship (SIGF), which is “awarded to outstanding doctoral students engaged in interdisciplinary research and supports them in undertaking novel, cutting-edge research and pursuing questions that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries.” This, along with an Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) fellowship, funded much of her research.

Fanlo also participated in the International Policy Scholars Consortium and Network Junior Scholar program for graduate students interested in doing policy-relevant research or work, providing her with the background to pursue work in foreign policy and national security within the U.S. government.  

Connecting her area of study to her own family’s struggles, she explains: “During World War II, my grandmother’s family fled Czechoslovakia because her father was Jewish. In the 1960s, my father’s family escaped political persecution in Cuba. These personal narratives intrigued me profoundly and sparked my interest in political movements and conflicts. Political science as a discipline applies the rigor of the scientific method to outcomes like repression, communal violence, interstate war, and arms races. This approach aligned with the way I had always thought about political dynamics.”

Toward the end of graduate school, Fanlo joined Meta within the product policy organization. There, she began working on issues related to artificial intelligence. “I realized that many political outcomes—including communal, civil, and interstate conflict—were deeply impacted and facilitated by emerging technologies. I had the opportunity to contribute to work surrounding the impact of recommender systems (a particular type of AI) on political cohesion and human rights.” She contributed to policies governing Meta’s recommender systems and efforts to bring more transparency to those systems for users and regulators.

Her experience at Meta left her with an understanding of the crucial importance of end-user trust in an AI system. “Responsible AI and technology governance is something we should all care about. I’m concerned about the false dichotomy between developing and deploying AI responsibly and creating products that are competitive on the market or in the international arena. Responsible AI work ensures that end-users trust that systems will operate as promised, have an understanding of how they work, and know that using the system will not introduce legal consequences or moral injury. Achieving those outcomes facilitates adoption of the AI system by end-users, and is thus essential. People will not leverage a technology that they do not trust or understand.”

She works closely with AI leaders across Department of Defense components in her current work. “This includes the military departments to get their feedback on the responsible AI resources we are developing and ensuring these resources can be integrated into their unique mission and operational contexts.”

Fanlo has been active in creating platforms for women to share their experiences of overcoming personal and professional challenges. “The aim is to empower each other to succeed despite gender discrimination in various forms.”

She keeps in close touch with her Hotchkiss friends. Brodie Olson ’12 officiated her wedding last year, and Abby Hanson ’12, Kate Albright ’12, Charlotte Belling ’12, Grace Gellman ’12, and Isabel Gomez ’12 all served as bridesmaids. "The support and friendship I found at Hotchkiss, along with the work ethic and resilience the school instilled in me, has been instrumental in helping me as my career has progressed.” 

Fanlo shares some advice for students considering a similar career: “Beyond a doctorate degree, working at a tech company or in national security, I am most passionate about public service. I promise you will find something profoundly special about giving back to your country that you won’t find in other professional endeavors.”