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5 reasons why AI needs women

The Finance Minister and Treasury have proposed some tough measures to address South Africa’s tax collection shortfall, growing budget deficit, and new spending priorities such as free education. Higher VAT, fuel levies and import duties on luxury goods will no doubt crimp consumer spending, which could be bad news for smaller businesses.

Female scientist

Over the last few years, artificial intelligence (AI) has become recognised as one of the keys to solving some of the world’s most complex issues. It promises to unlock a level of growth and innovation that has never been seen before.

Governments across the globe are now shifting gear. They’re actively designing investment approaches, invectives and discussing regulatory frameworks to help their nations maintain a top spot in this emerging industry. US policy makers and industry are grappling with the challenge of regulating without stifling innovation. And, the AI opportunity was a central focus earlier this year at Davos. The UK Prime Minister outlined her commitment “to ensure it works for everyone – be that in people’s jobs or their daily lives”.

Good vs bad

For all the good that is touted about AI, there are also some unsavoury reports on the effect AI could have on workforce demographics. And it’s far more imminent than the Hollywood narrative of ‘robots taking over the world’. If true, this could rock women’s hard fought and rightful place on the career ladder.

This is demonstrated in recent research from PwC, which indicates that automation could affect women’s jobs over the next decade, with potentially 23% of women’s jobs at risk – around 7% more than men. At a crucial time when the world is discussing and designing the way that AI will change the way we work, the higher risk of displacement felt by certain members of society must be made more visible and addressed alongside the serious skills shortage we are seeing in the tech sector among women.

Given the near-limitless application of this technology, touching all areas of the business, consumer and industrial worlds, ensuring that AI doesn’t perpetuate the bias that humans share is the only way that we will realise the maximum benefits it offers. We now need to focus on increasing access to career opportunities and skills, and encouraging women from all backgrounds to consider the doors that AI will open for their future. Now is the perfect time for any woman to get involved – here are five reasons why:

We need 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 play your favourite song, then you’ve used AI.

However, research conducted by Sage shows that actual public understanding of AI is extremely limited. This is hurting perception and sentiment. In fact, 43% of respondents in the United States and 46% in the UK admitted that they have ‘no idea what AI is about’. Given that most of us are using this technology every day, it’s essential that the industry takes responsibility for presenting the true potential of AI in an understandable way.

You don’t need a computer science degree

The beauty of AI is that it is designed to augment human intelligence in different ways. Life as we know it has not been built around hardware and tech – we are artists, thinkers, carers, 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 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 slow progress

While the design of famous AI personas like Alexa and Siri are heavily gendered towards female stereotypes, women engineers are rare in the overall talent pool of engineers creating them today. This problem needs to be fixed if we want to realise the greatest scientific and economic benefits of the technology. It starts in schools and at home, where we need to show our girls 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 broader and ensure our machines are learning about ethnicity, race, language, skin colour, and age – all the things that make us unique.

The tech industry recognises the need for change, now

ONS stats show that women account for just 14% of the STEM roles in the UK workforce. This is not good enough and poses a serious threat to the future global competitiveness of the UK tech sector. There has never been a greater need for change, and the industry is ready for it. Universities and businesses are showing positive developments to help address this, with key influencers and stakeholders making a dedicated effort to improve those numbers.

Some of the most pioneering AI researchers and developers are women

As someone who builds AI applications like Pegg every day, I have been privileged to work alongside some of the greatest minds in the AI industry – many of whom are women. We have a wealth of role models, but the narrative up until now has been heavily dominated by men. This influences the assumption that there is limited opportunity for young girls to pursue a path in this field. This is totally untrue. We need to challenge these damaging perceptions.

I am passionate about making AI a transformative and productivity enhancing revolution for all. However, the biggest hurdle standing in our way is building machines that don’t truly represent the entire human race. That’s why, here at Sage, we created the pioneering Code of Ethics, helping businesses to follow five key guidelines when working with AI. It covers everything from how to name virtual assistants, to building diverse datasets that help companies make hiring decisions when gender is taken out of the equation. We need to commit to a common goal to include more diversity in all aspects of the design, programming and deployment of AI. Once that happens, this technology has the potential to transform the way we do business and live our lives for the better, every day. And everyone deserves to benefit from it.