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Source: Kurier as of 06-04-2020

Technology is strongly influenced by male ideas. This poses many problems, including for men

Technical achievements from voice assistants to female robots adopt existing stereotypes. Women no longer want to accept this

In the Corona crisis, it is women who are saving our society from collapse. Three quarters of all employees in the food trade, social professions and hospitals are female. They ensure that we can continue shopping, care for the elderly and care for the sick. The exceptional situation is a good moment to look at areas where women are still completely under-represented. One of them is technology and research. The fact that computers and seemingly intelligent software operate in a gender-neutral manner is a misconception, as many examples show. “This starts with the conception of technology. Submissive voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana, who are supposed to help in everyday life without much rebuttal, are female. The intelligent IBM computer program Watson, which defeats world chess champions and makes decisions for corporations, is male,” says computer scientist Kriti Sharma in an interview with KURIER.

In the Corona crisis, it is women who are saving our society from collapse. Three quarters of all employees in the food trade, social professions and hospitals are female. They ensure that we can continue shopping, care for the elderly and care for the sick. The exceptional situation is a good moment to look at areas where women are still completely under-represented. One of them is technology and research. The fact that computers and seemingly intelligent software operate in a gender-neutral manner is a misconception, as many examples show. “This starts with the conception of technology. Submissive voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana, who are supposed to help in everyday life without much rebuttal, are female. The intelligent IBM computer program Watson, which defeats world chess champions and makes decisions for corporations, is male,” says computer scientist Kriti Sharma in an interview with KURIER.

Male and white

The 31-year-old Londoner has founded AI for Good, a company that aims to use artificial intelligence to make the world a fairer and better place. But the much-vaunted smart computer programs are only as good as their developers and the data they are fed with. Both are male and white simply because of the composition of the industry. According to Sharma, the proportion of female programmers in the field of artificial intelligence is just twelve percent. This also has an impact on new technologies. Speech recognition systems have long functioned worse in women because too few female voices and test subjects were taken into account in the development. In face and image recognition, such as that used for unlocking in modern smartphones, it is still the case today that dark-skinned women, for example, are less reliably recognized by the system than light-skinned men.

Fatal misconceptions

Other examples are even about life and death. For example, many women died in car accidents for a long time until it was discovered that safety precautions were based on crash tests with male Dolls. In medicine, heart attacks were long considered “men’s disease,” so medical studies focused on the male sex. Women, however, are very much affected. However, because they show completely different signs and symptoms, they run the risk of being misdiagnosed or treated too late. But men also suffer from such misconceptions. For example, “women’s disease”osteoporosis is also common in them – but is rarely diagnosed, let alone made an issue. In robotics, the need to use humanoid. To build machines, great. “The more human-like these are designed, the more we draw on our experiences and trained ideas. The machines therefore often reflect our stereotypes of men and women,” says gender researcher Brigitte Ratzer from the Vienna University of Technology in an interview with KURIER.

Against the stereotypes

But there are now other approaches, such as the gender-neutral pepper robot, which is used from customer service in companies to care for the elderly. “Robots in particular are suitable for us to become aware of certain role clichés, to play with them and also to break them up,” says Ratzer. “But if that results in us equipping willing devices with women’s voices by default or modelling robots in the shape of good maids, that won’t take us any further as a society.” Sharma, too, argues that technology should be designed to better reflect and demand cultural achievements: “It is not very effective for a young generation to grow up who believe that they can disrespect assistants, but also assistants, just because they are computer programs. You could design the software to point out misconduct to the user and only execute instructions when handled with respect.”

Clichéd search

But even big companies like Google are required not to perpetuate stereotypes. “If you enter in google image search professions like doctor or manager that are actually gender neutral in English, and 9 out of 10 pictures show men, the stereotype is maintained. Of course, it would help young women if female role models such as the doctor or the manager were also represented on the Internet,” says Sharma. “Technology, of course, cannot address inequalities that have grown over many years, but it can strengthen changes that are already taking place towards greater equality.”

 

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