Gender equity in the moments of AI

Mexico has the great challenge of promoting learning and scientific and technological vocation of students in general, and especially in women, in order not to lag behind as a society. When we think about discrimination, we usually assume that the origin of it comes from someone with cultural beliefs and prejudices that influence the fairness of the treatment of others with differences of some kind. However, thanks to the technological advances that open the door to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the search for gender equity presents a context in which not only human beings are involved.

Now it is possible for machines to learn and perform activities that were previously exclusive to humans, due to the new decision-making power provided by Artificial Intelligence (AI). The problem is that these intelligent automata will be able to reproduce complex tasks hundreds of times more efficiently than their human counterparts, and while technology by nature is neutral, they are inheriting some undesirable biases from their creators. According to research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, by entering the word “CEO” in Google’s image search engine, the results show a clear majority of images with executive-looking men, and only a few women.

On the other hand, the professor of computer science at the University of Virginia, Vicente Ordoñez, identified that the image recognition software he was building, associated in most cases the word “kitchen” with women, instead of with men. These examples show the potential risk of automating social behaviour loaded with human biases. The AI ​​is based on the programming of predictive algorithms based on large amounts of statistical data, which, through certain rules established by programmers, “teach the machines to think”. That is, these algorithms simulate human choices and repeat them in various similar scenarios. If the machine imitates its creator, it is worth asking: what is happening if these are mainly men?

According to a study conducted in 2016 by the administration of President Obama, in the context of the impact of Artificial Intelligence on employment, during the next 20 years, about 47% of existing jobs will disappear. Of these jobs, most are exercised in a high percentage by women. On the other hand, it is foreseen that within the next few years new jobs will be created that will require skills of the STEM-type (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, by its acronym in English), is the most relevant the competencies in data analysis, development of software, automation, genetic engineering, among others. According to the OECD, in Mexico, 32% of students who entered higher education chose a career related to STEM. Of these, 3 out of 10 students are women.

In these circumstances, Mexico has the great challenge of promoting learning and the scientific and technological vocation of students in general, and especially women, in order not to lag behind as a society facing the challenges of Industry 4.0. Artificial Intelligence continues to improve rapidly as a technology, and it will increasingly need less of human intervention to define its criteria. For these reasons, it is essential to establish adequate cultural and moral standards for the development of these new intelligent beings and to avoid existing gender biases arising in their decision-making and perpetuating them. It is difficult to predict at what level these technologies are going to influence our daily lives, but it is a fact that we must continue our efforts to achieve in a short time a greater vision of equality between men and women, and strongly promote that Mexican girls and women become protagonists of these changes.

This text was originally published in Spanish on January 10 (2019), in the Digital Edition of the magazine Forbes MX by Pedro Francisco Rangel Magdaleno y Mauricio Mokarzel Alba.

Reference: La equidad de género en los momentos de la IA.


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