Neuroscientist and entrepreneur Dr. Vivienne Ming is obsessed with using technology to maximize human potential. She cofounded Socos Labs, her fifth company, an independent think tank using machine learning, neuroscience, and economics to explore the future of human potential. Their research and innovations span education, mental health, inclusion, and the future of work. Previously, she was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, pursuing her research in cognitive neuroprosthetics.
She is also transgender. Ming, now 46, came out to her wife at 34, and harnessed medical technology the same way she uses AI and big data, to realize her inner potential in the world.
Though she told O Magazine in 2013 that it’s important that “talking about my experience not undermine those who choose differently [regarding surgery],” she described her transition as profound. “My body became aligned with my identity,” she said.
Where you came from, in Ming’s view of the world, shouldn’t limit where you’ll go.
Please describe how and when you first knew you were LGBT+:
I knew I was different as a little boy but assumed all the other little boys were just dumb. My sense of gender came crashing home when my father made me play football at age 12. Out on the field, surrounded by a grunting horde of anthropomorphic testosterone, I realized I was playing for the wrong team. From there, it only took 20 short years to finally come out…
In 25 words, describe how you came out:
I turned to my then-fiancée and said, “Do you want to know my deep, dark secret? I wish I was a woman.”
How has coming out, and being LGBT+ or an Ally at work, influenced your leadership approach and style?
Coming out was not the challenge. Being different has not limited me. It was building the courage to own my terrible failures and make a change that was so terribly hard. My entire purpose as a leader is to help others develop the courage to be better people.
If you could have any job other than the one you have now, it would be:
The junior Senator from the great state of California…or possibly a science fiction author.
My most important Ally is:
My wife. I literally wouldn’t be who I am without her.
My first job was:
Sometime in the early 90’s, as a homeless college dropout, I co-founded a film company called Hardrive Productions. Surprisingly – given the name and circumstances – it wasn’t a porn studio.
The best piece of advice I ever received was:
“Science is a story.”
The next big thing for the global LGBT+ community is:
Animus against LGBT+ people still dominates around the world. We need to change the myriad of regional negative stereotypes and build up stories and heroes, not for us but for the broad communities in which we live. We must never give up on the direct work of saving lives, but that burden will only grow if we cannot change the hearts of our neighbors.
What would be the opening song in a movie about your life, and why?
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” by Stevie Wonder. It is far too easy to lose perspective and start believing your own press.