Subtle Sexism in Our Application of Artificial Intelligence

April 12, 2016

2:34 pm

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming a hot topic within technology. And there’s little wonder why – exploring the world of AI is just as exciting as exploring the possibilities in virtual reality. But when it comes to AI, many of the issues that pervade our current culture also persist within this new frontier.

For as long as AI has been a viable option for digital exploration, AI has been exclusively female. Whether it’s in the form of Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, every GPS system across the country and most science fiction films, the AI we have familiarized ourselves with has been exclusively female. This cultural phenom is particularly interesting when we understand that AI, as a genderless and completely customizable entity, is merely a reflection of our own cultural expectations manifested for the digital age. By leaving the question of why AI is female unexplored, are we contributing to yet another culture that thrives on exploiting and objectifying women?

How We Rewrite AI

When we examine the most popular examples of AI in our everyday lives, we’re met with one undeniable fact: they are all created to give our lives an added layer of convenience. Whether that’s to assist with directions, answering a curious question, or just finding a lost file on our devices, these specific tasks add to our interpretation of service roles being feminine-identifying. Though these may seem like harmless connections, it’s important to understand that these decisions are deliberately made, and these connections are no accidents. By allowing these ideas to persist, we risk creating a new frontier where objectifying women becomes the unquestionable norm.

Other current AI trends reflect this. with the merging of robotics and 3-D printing – allowing for the mostly-male designer industry to customize their own robots. Many designers have chosen to replicate attractive women, sometimes even famous personalities, in these projects. And while it may seem harmless to do so, some are questioning the ethical consequences of such projects.

The Future of AI

So what does all of this mean for the future of AI? Well, it means that to create a truly inclusive and varied AI field, we must be willing to confront the issues that our current AI culture presents. Does the homogenous landscape of who designs, creates, and launches products serve as a primary factor for many of these underlying issues? Will pushing for more women and marginalized individuals into the field serve as the right solution, or must it be coupled with other solutions?

The answer to this question is tricky, and not one that should be answered singularly. Instead, we must first be willing to examine the shortcomings of the current AI culture, and remain vigilant in improving it for everyone. After all, AI is fast becoming a landscape that integrates seamlessly into our own lives. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to make it as inclusive and impressive as possible?

Image via Flickr / Henning Mühlinghaus

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Cameron is a tech and culture journalist, comic book enthusiast, and lives near New York City. A graduate of Stockton University, she's using her words to shift the world of online journalism, one byline at a time. When she's not writing, she can be found reading sci-fi novels, collecting succulents, and planning her next obnoxious hair color. Cameron is an editorial fellow at Tech.Co. Send your tips to cameron@tech.co or tweet @BlkGirlManifest.

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