' ); } }) .catch(function(err) { (console.error || console.log)(err); }); }());

Will AI built by a ‘sea of dudes’ understand women? AI’s inclusivity problem

Computing has a problem — there are too few women in the field.

Only 26 percent of computer professionals were women in 2013, according to a recent review by the American Association of University Women. That figure has dropped 9 percent since 1990.

Explanations abound. Some say the industry is masculine by design. Others claim computer culture is unwelcoming — even hostile — to women. So, while STEM fields like biology, chemistry, and engineering see an increase in diversity, computing does not. Regardless, it’s a serious problem.

Artificial intelligence is still in its infancy, but it’s poised to become the most disruptive technology since the Internet. AI will be everywhere — in your phone, in your fridge, in your Ford. Intelligent algorithms already track your online activity, find your face in Facebook photos, and help you with your finances. Within the next few decades they’ll completely control your car and monitor your heart health. An AI may one day even be your favorite artist.

The programs written today will inform the systems built tomorrow. And if designers all have one worldview, we can expect equally narrow-minded machines.

AI are already biased

Last year, a Carnegie Mellon University study found that far fewer women than men were shown Google ads for high paying jobs. The researchers developed a tool called AdFisher that creates simulated profiles and runs browser experiments by surfing the web and collecting data on how slight changes in profiles and preference affect the content shown.

“The male users were shown the high-paying job ads about 1,800 times, compared to female users who saw those ads about 300 times,” Amit Datta, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering, said in a press release.

The systems aren’t just gender biased. In May, an investigative report by ProPublica uncovered that a popular software used to predict future criminals had racist tendencies. The system would falsely flag black defendants as high risk while often incorrectly labeling white defendants as low risk.

Microsoft researcher Margaret Mitchell called AI a “sea of dudes.” Kate Crawford, a principal researcher at Microsoft and co-chair of a White House symposium on AI, claimed the industry has a “white guy problem” in an article for the New York Times. “We need to be vigilant about how we design and train these machine-learning systems, or we will see ingrained forms of bias built into the artificial intelligence of the future,” she wrote. “Like all technologies before it, artificial intelligence will reflect the values of its creators. So inclusivity matters… Otherwise, we risk constructing machine intelligence that mirrors a narrow and privileged vision of society, with its old, familiar biases and stereotypes.”

Fixing the system

The sea of dudes was overflowing at Rework Deep Learning Summit in London this September, where women were few and far between the roughly 500 attendees.

Rework founder Nikita Johnson recognizes the gender disparity in AI and wants to do something about it.

“If AI systems are built primarily by men only, then they are more likely to create biased results and the representation of the builders will dominate.”

“If AI systems are built primarily by men only, then they are more likely to create biased results and the representation of the builders will dominate,” she told Digital Trends. “By limited diversity in teams, we limit the breadth of experience that can be brought into a project. For instance, data sets need to be assembled by both men and women to ensure that the results from the data includes a broad look at gender issues.”

Through “Women in Machine Intelligence” events, Johnson and her mostly-female team highlight female talent and encourage attendees to find peers, partners, and mentors in other women. She sees this networking as a necessary step towards growing female representation in the field.

“One of the reasons [for the lack of diversity within the AI community] is the cycle between a lack of role models for young women and girls to look up to,” Johnson said. “Therefore the lack of motivation for women and girls to chose AI and computer science as a potential career route.”

But as Johnson pointed out, there are plenty of inspiring women in computing, a handful of whom spoke at the conference.

Irina Higgins from Google DeepMind demonstrated her team’s concept for a system that can learn visual concepts without supervision. Raia Hadsell – also of DeepMind — discussed her team’s research into simulated deep reinforcement learning, a process by which a physical robot trains skills through a simulated version of itself. She likened the technique to learning like humans do.

A couple hours later, Miriam Redi of Bell Labs Cambridge shined a light on the invisible side of visual data by showing how researchers can uncover the subjective biases built into systems. In a study on aesthetics, Redi and her team developed a deep learning system that automatically scores images in terms of their compositional beauty. The study helped clarify what makes a good portrait different from a bad one from an algorithmic perspective, but also revealed a group of features about race and gender, which the system incorrectly deemed relevant.

“By doing these kinds of studies and explorations of what’s going on inside of our subjective machine visions system, we can avoid these kind of racist behaviors of the machines,” Redi said.

Monitoring algorithms to avoid gender-bias helps develop more inclusive systems and events like those organized by Rework offer encouragement through connections, but interest and motivation may come much earlier for young women. Support from family is key. And there are dozens of apps and educational toys to teach kids the basics of coding.

Indeed, University of Cambridge AI researcher Shaona Ghosh insists the initial motivation should come from closer to home. “First and foremost the support, belief and encouragement should come from the parents,” she said. “It’s a huge and important step that no amount of education and opportunity can compensate for.”

There’s no simple way to turn the tide of the sea of dudes and promote women in AI, but it’s in our collective best interest to do so. It takes effort from organizers like Johnson and researchers like Crawford, Higgins, Hadsell, and Redi — but as Ghosh advised, perhaps the most effective effort begins at home with the parents who raise the next generation of computer scientists.

Emerging Tech

Nvidia’s new A.I. creates entire virtual cities by watching dash cam videos

Nvidia's groundbreaking new machine learning technology can generate a convincing virtual city simply by showing it car dashcam videos. Here's how it works and why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

Looking for the perfect toy or gadget for your child? Thankfully, we've rounded up some of our personal favorite tech toys, including microscopes, computer kits, and a spherical droid from a galaxy far, far away.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Hear the sounds of wind on Mars from InSight’s latest audio recording

NASA's InSight craft has captured the sound of the wind blowing on the surface of Mars. The audio file was picked up by the air pressure sensor and the seismometer which detected vibrations from the 10 to 15 mph winds in the area.

Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

New experiment casts doubt on claims to have identified dark matter

A South Korean experiment called COSINE-100 has attempted to replicate the claims of dark matter observed by the Italian DAMA/LIBRA experiment, but has failed to replicate the observations.
Emerging Tech

White dwarf star unexpectedly emitting bright ‘supersoft’ X-rays

NASA's Chandra Observatory has discovered a white dwarf star which is emitting supersoft X-rays, calling into question the conventional wisdom about how X-rays are produced by dying stars.

Amazon scouted airport locations for its cashier-free Amazon Go stores

Representatives of Amazon Go checkout-free retail stores connected with officials at Los Angeles and San Jose airports in June to discuss the possibility of cashier-free grab-and-go locations in busy terminals.
Emerging Tech

Full-fledged drone delivery service set to land in remote Canadian community

Some drone delivery operations seem rather crude in their execution, but Drone Delivery Canada is building a comprehensive platform that's aiming to take drone delivery to the next level.
Emerging Tech

In 2018, e-scooters reshaped the urban landscape

Within just a year, electric scooters have fundamentally changed how we navigate cities. From San Francisco to Paris, commuters have a new option that’s more fun than mass transit, easier than a bike, and definitely not a car.
Emerging Tech

Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Intel has signed a deal to use its Falcon 8+ drones to carry out bridge inspections. The hope is that these drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.