by Patricia Barnes*
A global women’s network says the biggest danger to women regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the years ahead is the fact that women represent only about 22 percent of all AI professionals worldwide.
The Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society has launched the Women & AI Daring Circle to develop “concrete steps” to increase the participation and visibility of women in the creation of artificial intelligence systems and promulgation of research and standards that are accurate, reliable and nondiscriminatory.
The group is led by Microsoft in collaboration with L’Oreal, Publicis Groupe, and AXA. UNESCO is an institutional partner and FTI Consulting, one of the largest financial consulting firms in the world, is the Circle’s “knowledge partner.”
The Circle calls AI one of the “most disruptive” technological developments of our age. It will result in unparalleled benefits to society, such as improving the treatment of diseases like cancer, but, if not developed responsibly, carries the risk of exacerbating discrimination.
Julia Harrison, the Global Head of Public Affairs Practice at FTI Consulting, said “the biggest AI danger to women is human… with so few women in technology and in the front-end design of algorithms, we risk perpetuating the gender and other biases that already exist as machines learn from existing circumstance and then in self (machine to machine) learning.”
Artificial intelligence generally refers to using computer systems and algorithms to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as for recruiting and hiring employees.
The potential for bias does not stem from the mathematical model of the algorithm or the software used in AI systems but in the underlying data. If the data is tainted by historical bias, it carries the risk of exacerbating historical discrimination.
Harrison said it is “wrong just to think of danger without also acknowledging the opportunity. If we can bring more women into the design and the application stages of AI, we have the chance to change rapidly biases that have been built into our society for centuries."
Shelley McKinley, Vice-President of Technology and Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft, said: “As an industry and a society we have a shared opportunity and responsibility to influence how technology, and specifically AI, accelerates our efforts to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. We must address the need to deploy technology in a responsible and inclusive way.”
As a first step, the Circle has called upon member organizations to make a one-year commitment to build a gender-inclusive AI ecosystem in their organization.
In the second phase of the effort, the Circle will ask key stakeholders to identify the ways that AI systems can address specific challenges that women face. This will shift the debate to the transformational potential the technology has to address gender and other inequalities. This second phase is slated to launch in the first quarter of 2020
The Circle’s ultimate goal is to outline steps that public authorities and businesses can take to adopt a “gender-lens” in the development and deployment of AI initiatives and technologies.
According to the World Economic Forum, the gender gap in the AI industry is 72%. The largest gender gaps are found in manufacturing, energy and mining, and software and IT services. Women employed in the software and IT services industry make up just 7.4% of the AI talent pool. The smallest AI talent gender gaps are found in the non-profits, health care and education industries,
The Women and AI Daring Circle is one of five initiatives launched by the forum. The other initiatives are: Women & Access to Health, Women & Climate, Women & Stem and Women & Supplier Diversity.
The Women’s Forum was founded in 2005 as an independent organization and has been rated one of the top global forums worldwide. It organizes a global meeting in Paris each year and two regional meetings in North-America and Asia. The Forum was acquired in 2009 by Publicis Groupe, a global advertising and communications firm.
*Senior Contributor, Diversity & Inclusion
**first published in: www.forbes.com