Gender Gap in AI: Not a glitch but a structural problem

Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine learning (ML) are two of the most powerful technologies of our time. These two correlated systems are possible today thanks to a historical sequence of human contributions, and would definitely not exist without women’s intervention.

The Woman Post | Melisa Sanmiguel Gómez

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Although history has been mainly written from a male perspective, and women have barley received credit for their ideas, there is still record of brilliant women that were the backbone of what is known today as computer science.

Women have experienced such diminishment, that when searching for the most influential mathematicians and computer scientists of all times, even recognized media exclusively point out to men. There is no glitch or faulty algorithm to excuse the omission of women like Hypatia, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, or Fei- Fei Li —one of the most influential contributors to AI technology.

While representation and recognition are nowadays more common for women, statistics on gender equality are still deeply concerning. According to the latest World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, it will take 151 years to close economic gender gaps. In tech industry, the perspective for women is just as discouraging.

Women only represent 25% of workers in the technology sector. This dramatic difference is even worse at the management level, where only 11% of leadership roles are held by women. Yes, technology is key to achieve gender equality, but the gap will only be accentuated, if women lack opportunities to hold decision-making roles.

Since the creation of the very first virtual assistant, “Eliza”, up until the most modern systems like “Siri” or “Alexa”, female names and voices are often used. Ironically, they are predominantly created by man, and reinforce false stereotypes of submission and subordination mistakenly associated to women.

Artificial Intelligence technology has the potential to transform the world as we know it, and women have a defining role. Nonetheless, this year UNESCO revealed that: women represent only 20% of employees in technical roles at machine learning companies; 12% of the artificial intelligence researchers are women; and, only 6% of professional software developers in the field of AI are women. Moreover, according to the International Labour Organization, when women do get jobs in the digital or tech industry, they face a wage gap of 21% compared to men, which is significantly higher than the general economy gap of 16%.

If machines can learn, so can we

The beauty of technology is that it can be both, the end and the means. Multiple educational platforms, and even social media channels are now developing tutorials and courses with solid information about AI and ML.

There are several AI and ML courses online, being some of them even free, and the length of the programs depends on the specific topic/skills that a candidate wishes to follow. A few examples of useful basic AI trainings are:

Interestedly enough, many of these courses have a gender approach, specially designed for women and girls who want to learn basic knowledge about AI, ML, Chatbot, ChatGPT, Deep Learning, Natural Networks, Python, etc.

ChatGPT: Artificial answers for real-life problems

The use of AI became extremely popular this year. It is now common to see photo montages on Instagram, AI twitter accounts, unrealistic video scenarios on TikTok and a variety recreational content such as memes.

This technology is also in the center of ethical dilemmas and political debates, especially for the use of personal data, privacy issues, artistic controversies and one of the most harmful; gender bias. Unfortunately, every AI platform created up to this point will deliver biased results. The reason is that this type of technology is not neutral as it processes big data that was added by human action. It also prioritizes what the algorithm targets as viral or more susceptible to get “clicks”.

Despite this problematic scenario, AI also offers useful information and opportunities for women. AI Tools like the OpenAI Chatbot “ChatGPT” can provide human-like responses on women rights queries, and it can be a useful source of knowledge.

ChatGPT is still on a research and feedback-collection phase, thus, many results can be either incomplete, biased, superficial or inappropriate. When using this technology, experts recommend reading and acknowledging the terms and conditions, and avoid providing personal information.

Technological innovation is currently facing strong ethical debates coming from all sectors of the society. Global organizations like UNESCO have already developed ethical guidelines for robotics and recommendations on AI usage. Every global effort is crucial and will be decisive for current and future generations, especially when promoting technological tools as means to achieve gender equality.

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