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The AI field is too male and too white, according to new report

The artificial intelligence industry is facing a “diversity crisis,” according to a new report released today by researchers from the AI Now Institute.

The report raises critical questions about the direction of the field and claims that due to an overwhelming proportion of white males in the industry, the technology is at risk of prolonging historical power inequalities and biases.

According to the new data, women and people of colour are profoundly underrepresented, with about 80 per cent of AI professors being men, while just 15 per cent of AI research staff at Facebook and ten per cent at Google being women.

The result of this majority is a workforce that often is driven by white and male perspectives, consequently building tools that often affect other groups of people. “This is not the diversity of people that are being affected by these systems,” AI Now Institute co-director Meredith Whittaker said, commenting on the news.

Poorly executed AI projects have in fact proved to be discriminating against women in the hiring process at Amazon, or by assigning more negative emotions to black men’s faces than white men’s faces in facial recognition technology. To tackle these issues, some companies have already developed tools aimed at fighting AI bias.

The report claims these failings have now created a “moment of reckoning.” Kate Crawford, the main author of the report, said that the industry needs to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and that the use of AI systems for classification, detection and prediction of race and gender “is in urgent need of re-evaluation.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Tess Posner, CEO of AI4ALL, which tries to increase diversity within AI, said the sector has reached a “tipping point,” and added that it’s increasingly becoming more difficult to solve the problem. “It’s going to take effort at all stages of AI and take change at cultural and procedural levels to solve this.”

To tackle the issue at its roots, the researchers suggest companies could improve transparency by publishing more data on compensation, broken down by race and gender, and by regularly publishing harassment and discrimination transparency reports.

“The diversity crisis in AI is well-documented and wide-reaching,” the report concludes. “It can be seen in unequal workplaces throughout industry and in academia, in the disparities in hiring and promotion, in the AI technologies that reflect and amplify biased stereotypes, and in the resurfacing of biological determinism in automated systems.”

Image via Max Pixel.

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