Sat, Mar 03, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Speakers at tech congress caution about AI sexism


Artificial intelligence (AI) could emulate human bias, including sexism, if there is no oversight on data used to create it, experts at the world’s largest mobile phone fair in Barcelona warned on Thursday.

“We’re all very aware the machines will learn the same bias as those who coded them,” Accenture Ltd UK and Ireland Technology Group managing director Emma McGuiguan said at the Mobile World Congress.

AI is the science of programming machines or computers to reproduce human processes, such as learning and decision making.

Julie Woods-Moss, chief innovation officer at Indian mobile operator Tata Communications Ltd, said that in order to do this, a large amount of human-led data is needed.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t encourage AI to be biased,” she said, calling on professionals in the sector to find ways to identify these biases.

There should be ways to “consciously look for this bias — for instance if you start seeing patterns that say ‘man is the doctor’ or ‘woman is the nurse,’” Woods-Moss said.

She also criticized “most personal assistants [being] female,” giving as an example that in cars, the underlying assumption is that the driver is a man and will want to hear a female voice on the GPS device.

Most of these devices work because of AI, analyzing conversations by their users to be able to respond. Inc’s virtual assistant, named Alexa, “has only recently joined the hashtag MeToo,” Woods-Moss said, referring to the movement launched on social media to encourage women to make public any sexual assault or harassment against them.

“Before, if you would call the assistant a horrible sexually explicit name, it would reply: ‘thank you for the feedback,’” she said.

“Now, Alexa says: ‘I am not responding to that,’” she said.

Lisa Wang, founder of SheWorx, a financing platform for female entrepreneurs, said that more than 90 percent of those creating AI technology “are still men.”

“That ultimately is going to amplify the biases of the people who are creating it,” she said.

According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, just 19 percent of workers in the mobile technology industry were women.

Highlighting worries about the issue, the American Civil Liberties Union last year started looking into concerns that machines are showing signs of hidden racial or gender bias.

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Thursday wrapped up with organizers saying that attendance figures were similar to last year’s fair, despite simmering tensions over the autonomous community of Catalonia’s failed bid to break from Spain.

The annual tech event is of high importance for Spain both financially and image-wise, and there were fears that tensions over Catalonia could disrupt the event this year.

However, after it closed its doors, organizers said there had been about 107,000 visitors to the four-day fair this year, similar to the 108,000 people who came last year.

Organizers said the congress will have had an economic effect on Barcelona and the surrounding area of 471 million euros (US$575 million) and it created 13,000 part-time jobs.

“We had another highly successful Mobile World Congress, across so many fronts,” John Hoffman, chief executive of the GSM Association, the global mobile operators’ association that organized the event, said in a statement.

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