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Opinion: 5 Reasons Why AI Needs Women

by Kriti Sharma

Over the course of the last few years, Artificial intelligence (AI) has become recognized as crucial to solving some of the world’s most complex issues from sexism in the workplace to feeding communities around the globe. Those building AI constantly advance a level of growth and innovation that has never been seen before.

Governments across the globe are now shifting gears, actively designing investment approaches, invectives and discussing regulatory frameworks around this emerging industry. The U.S. Congress set up a dedicated subcommittee to fully understand how AI works and the importance of removing bias from the equation. In general, policy makers and major industry players like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Salesforce and others are grappling with the challenge of regulating without stifling innovation.

For all the good that is being touted about AI, there are also some unsavory reports on the effect AI could have on workforce demographics. A recent report from PwC indicates that women’s jobs could be more adversely affected by automation over the next decade than men’s — with potentially 23 percent of women’s jobs at risk, around 7 percent higher than men. The higher risk of displacement felt by certain members of society must be made more visible and addressed in tandem with closing the skills gap felt across the tech world.

That’s why we now need to focus on increasing access to career opportunities, skills and encouraging women from all backgrounds to consider a career in AI. Here are five reasons why now is the time for women to get involved.

To help inform public perception and understanding

If you’ve ever used predictive search on Google, asked Siri about the weather, or requested that Alexa to play your favorite song — then you’ve interacted with AI.

Surprised? Well, research conducted by Sage shows actual public understanding of AI is extremely limited, and this is hurting perception and sentiment. In fact, 43 percent of respondents in the U.S. admitted that they have ‘no idea what AI is all about.’ Given that most of us are using this technology every day, it is essential that we, the industry, take responsibility for dispelling rumors presenting the true potential of AI in an understandable way.

You don’t need a computer science PhD

The beauty of AI is that it is designed to augment human intelligence in a range of different ways. Life as we know it has not been built around hardware and tech — we are artists, thinkers, careers, inventors and more. Therefore, there are a huge number of opportunities outside the science and tech-specific roles when it comes to building useful AI.

We need groups of both men and women, enthusiastic individuals passionate about the opportunities that this technology can bring, with expertise in problem solving, psychology, language, design, storytelling, anthropology and law, to name a few. The only way we will create truly intelligent AI is if it is taught to work, react and understand language the way we do.

Bias is our greatest threat — and will only slow progress

While the design of famous AI personas like Alexa and Siri are heavily gendered towards female stereotypes, women engineers remain a rare occurrence in the overall talent pool of engineers creating them. Today, only 18 percent of software developers and 21 percent of computer programmers identify as women, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. In order to realize the greatest scientific and economic benefits of AI, we need to show our girls, at school and at home, that no career is out of their reach.

Moreover, AI needs to be built to reflect the diversity of its users. Women and men work, live and think differently — we need to capture as many different perspectives as possible to produce a high-quality product with maximum potential. And let’s remember this isn’t just a gender issue. We need to think more broadly and ensure our machines are learning about ethnicity, race, language, skin color, and age — all the things that make us unique.

The tech industry needs to see change, now

The U.S. Department of Commerce places the number of women who work in STEM roles in this country at just 24 percent. Lacking the diverse perspectives necessary for innovation, the industry must change. Universities, companies and investors are all implementing new educational, hiring and funding initiatives to increase women’s participation in the tech sector and, importantly, to build inclusive work cultures.

Some of the most pioneering AI researchers and developers are women

As someone who builds AI applications like our accounting chatbot Pegg, I have been privileged to work alongside some of the greatest minds in the field — many of whom are women. We have a wealth of fantastic role models, but unfortunately the faces of the movement have been heavily dominated by one gender. This influences the assumption that there is limited opportunity for young girls to pursue a path in this field, which is totally untrue. We need to challenge these damaging perceptions.

The biggest hurdle standing in the way if making AI a transformative and productivity-enhancing revolution for all is the danger of building machines that don’t represent the entire human race. That’s why we’ve created a dedicated AI code of ethics to guide businesses working with human-facing AI. We incorporated everything from the value of removing gender from virtual assistant nomenclature to building diverse data sets that help companies make objective hiring decisions. It’s why I add my voice to those calling for the technology community to commit to a common goal: including more diversity in all aspects of the design, programming and deployment of AI.

In the meantime, we need to keep building AI technology that responsibly transforms the way we do business and live our lives. Given the near-limitless business, consumer and industrial applications, ensuring that AI doesn’t perpetuate the bias that humans share is the only way that we will realize the maximum benefits it offers. And everyone, regardless of gender identification or background, deserves to benefit from it.

Kriti Sharma is the Vice President of AI at Sage Group, a global integrated accounting, payroll and payment systems provider. She is also the creator of Pegg, the world’s first AI assistant that manages everything from money to people, with users in 135 countries.

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