The Challenge Of Diversity In The AI World

Imagine if your grandparents were responsible for creating the artificial intelligence of the future. What values, morals, attitudes and assumptions would be inbuilt?

I attended the Sage Summit at the Excel London last week hoping to gain some time out to reflect on my business strategy. I didn’t expect to get a renewed energy around the diversity agenda, but it has never felt more important to me.

During the Sage Summit, we were introduced to ‘Pegg’ which is Sage’s Artificial intelligence offering. Pegg will enable you to access financial information about your business wherever you are via a chatbot.

Photo Credit: Chris Swalmius-Dato‏

Artificial intelligence (AI) is still in its infancy, but it’s poised to become the most disruptive technology since the Internet. AI will be everywhere – in your phone, in your fridge, in your car. Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are just two examples.

If my grandparents were alive and able to code, the AI they’d create would be a bit sexist, racist and homophobic. The fact is that if we don’t have diversity in the area of AI, we will end up reinforcing the very stereotypes and biases that we are trying to move away from.

To get it right we need a diverse group of programmers with different perspectives and a willingness to challenge each other. We are not there yet.

Martha Lane Fox in her keynote at the Sage Summit spoke about Apple creating a health app that didn’t mention women’s health, such as menopause and childbirth immediately alienating 50% of the population. Why? because no women were involved in its design.

Business Insider reported, an investigative report by ProPublica uncovered that a popular software used to predict future criminals had racist tendencies. The system would falsely flag black defendants as high risk while often incorrectly labeling white defendants as low risk.

The theme of diversity ran throughout the Sage Summit and was mentioned by most speakers. Entrepreneur Interior Designer Kelly Hoppen shared her experience of dyslexia and some recent research from Accenture was revealed which drove a discussion on encouraging girls into STEM careers. I am delighted to say that my social enterprise Rocking Ur Teens is working to address this with organisations like the Stemettes and Thomson Reuters #RivetingRosie playing a part of our conferences aimed at inspiring and increasing the aspirations of 13-14 year old girls.

Drawing on my experience of advocating equality through leadership development over the last 5 years, I was a panelist at the Sage Summit on the theme of diversity and never did I feel it was more important at to crack this issue for the future. Moving the agenda from ticking boxes and tokenism to eliminating organisational structures that get in the way of everyone contributing at their optimum level and ensuring their opinions are heard.

Photo Credit: Sage Summit

So how do we crack diversity for the AI age? Here are 3 suggestions:

1. Visibility – Well done to Sage for their diverse group of speakers. Keynotes included Deborah Meaden, Jamal Edwards and Martha Lane Fox. Highlighting role models from diverse backgrounds, and moving beyond gender, as the only gauge of diversity is key.

2. Challenge – Continue to challenge unconscious bias and ensure that our mistakes are not carried into the future. Creating diverse teams with different perspectives, seeking out difference, appreciating and leveraging it.

3. Embrace – Let’s not shy away from AI, we’ll find our voice is missing and biases will be reinforced for the next generation, if we don’t show up in this arena. Very much like the boardroom issues we are tackling today.

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