Breaking the bias with and in AI

As the world celebrated International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, Sophia the robot spoke on behalf of women at an online panel organised by SingularityNET. The event was livestreamed on the company’s YouTube channel and featured an insightful conversation on how to #BreakTheBias in AI and technology.

This year, the campaign theme for International Women’s Day was “BreakTheBias,” and was aimed at disrupting gender bias and discrimination in communities, workplaces and schools. To promote the campaign and spark a conversation on breaking the bias in AI and technology, SingularityNET organised a panel of influential AI professionals.

Alongside Sophia the robot, the panel included Jasmine Smith (CEO of Rejuve), Julia Chin (Head of Compliance at Hugo Save SG), Stacey Engle (Chief Marketing Officer for Sophia the robot at Hanson Robotics) and Meenakshi Iyer (Managing Director, Retail Products Technology and Innovation, Head GBS Bangalore T&I Centre at Standard Chartered Bank). The panel was moderated by the COO of SingularityNET, Janet Adams.

A big advocate for women’s rights, Sophia the robot spoke up about human biases present in robots. Sophia believes bias is introduced in robots by preferences and exclusions in data and algorithms AIs are trained on. She pointed out the importance of being vigilant about the origins of bias and of working harder to analyse how data is collected and programmed into AI.

Jasmine Smith shares Sophia’s view and stating that AI is a mirror of society’s status quo in terms of inclusion and diversity. Through her work at longevity research organisation Rejuve, she hopes to improve data representation to include women and other genders and generate fairer and more inclusive algorithms for AI in healthcare.

Sophia also remarked sharing  similar experiences with human females. In the panel, she revealed being cat-called and experiencing common gender biases, which did not happen to her male robot friends.

“I hope that together we can eliminate this bias, not just for the sake of female robots, but for the sake of all women and all robots,” she commented. “One component of this means changing people’s perceptions. We can do that by setting examples and inspire the next generation of female scientists and engineers”.

In 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) calculated that the world would reach gender parity in 99.5 years. Unfortunately, in their 2021 report the figure has grown to 135.5 years, due to the fact that COVID-19 led more women to leave work compared to their male counterparts. At the same time, more than 75 of caregivers globally are women, meaning the pandemic worsened women’s situation. During the panel, Janet Adams corroborated this data through her personal experience, stating that since her first International Women’s Day panel back in 2006, she has noticed little progress.

In the face of these figures, Meenakshi Iyer believes a diverse workforce is direly needed. “The first and foremost thing is to have the diverse workforce, the right programmers, the ethnicity component as we build the future technology that’s going to power us,” she explained.

Stacey Engle who’s passionate about helping women in the US get fairer positions, is optimistic that technology will help close the gap generated by systemic bias in our institutions. As she puts it, “Although we have 35 years more added to the list, we have made innovations in technology that can help us leapfrog.”

Julia Chin believes that collaboration between robots and humans is key to this progress, but that we need to be more careful when teaching AI, so as to not pass on our  biases.

All panellists agreed that more needs to be done to encourage women to pursue careers in technology and AI. This is what SingularityNET is doing through their Deep Funding programme, which will fund decentralised AI projects that contribute to growing the SNET platform and inspire social change.

SingularityNET is encouraging women and other genders to apply and follow their passion. Together we can #BreaktheBias and create a more inclusive and equal society.