Stop making digital assistants female by default: New Report by UNESCO

The World Economic Forum says that in an era when human skills are increasingly important and complementary to technology, the world cannot afford to deprive itself of women’s talent in sectors in which talent is already scarce.

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Stop making digital assistants female by default, recommends a new report, ‘I’d Blush If I Could’ by UNESCO in collaboration with the German Government and the EQUALS Skills Coalition.

UNESCO has called out the ‘stark gender-imbalances’ in skills, education and the technology sector. The report says there is an urgent necessity to help more women and girls cultivate strong digital skills. It brings to the fore that women are extremely under-represented in teams developing artificial intelligence (AI) tools. The report highlights that women make up only 12 per cent of AI researchers, six per cent of software developers and are 13 times less likely to file information and communication technology (ICT) patents.

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Saniye Gulser Corat, director of gender equality at UNESCO says obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entertaining our homes, cars and offices. Besides Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, other ‘female’ voice assistants also express ‘submissive traits’, an expression of the gender bias built in to AI products.

“Their hardwired subservience influences how people speak to female voices and models how women respond to requests and express themselves.” To change course, Corat says we need to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether AI technologies are gendered and crucially, ‘who is gendering them’.

The World Economic Forum also found that there are proportionally fewer women than men joining the workforce due to the growth of automation and AI. The findings point out that the automation of certain jobs has impacted many roles traditionally held by women.

“Women also continue to be underrepresented in industries that utilize science , technology ,engineering ,and mathematics ,(STEM) skills. This affects their presence in the booming field of AI. Currently, women make up 22 per cent of AI professionals, a gender gap three times larger than other industries.”

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The analysis also warns about the possible emergence of ‘new gender gaps’ in advanced technologies. The World Economic Forum says that in an era when human skills are increasingly important and complementary to technology, the world cannot afford to deprive itself of women’s talent in sectors in which talent is already scarce.

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The World Economic Forum says that in an era when human skills are increasingly important and complementary to technology, the world cannot afford to deprive itself of women’s talent in sectors in which talent is already scarce.