Will AI affect women more than men?

There has been so much talk recently of AI and how it will affect the workplace that I think we have all started to tune it out. But now there is a debate about whether AI will adversely affect women – after all, the algorithms are mainly developed by men (78% of those working in AI are men).  Will AI be detrimental to women and be at risk of undoing all the work that has taken place over the last 20 years to redress gender imbalance in the workplace?  Could AI simply reflect all the biases we have and amplify them?

This debate has grabbed my attention. As someone who has resisted the lure of the likes of Facebook and Twitter (I don’t have time and think it would overwhelm me), I congratulate myself for the fact that these huge corporates cannot mine or share information about me. I am sure my small digital footprint has given away some facts about me – yes, I like titbits of celebrity gossip (!) but not to the extent that the “likes” and “shares” are analysed by algorithms to then build a profile about me.

So, what does this mean for women?

Will AI take over those skills that some call “soft skills” to which women are adept? Empathy, persuasion and other skills which fall into the “EQ” category. I believe (or am hopeful) that with machine learning (the application of AI) there will be greater need for checks and balances. It is women who are best placed to do this. We score better on emotional intelligence (2016 research, conducted by the Korn Ferry Hay Group, used data from 55,000 professionals in 90 countries. In 11 of 12 emotional intelligence competencies women outperformed men).

We can do better than the machines. But more importantly, we need to encourage our daughters to enter into the coding world. If more women had input into the algorithms, we can feel more at ease about some of the decisions the machines make. Take, for example, CV and gender-blind recruitment – if AI is analysing the application data and there are innate biases, this is worrying. The worry is that AI infers all sorts of things about us – our politics, sexual orientation, our likes and dislikes. We need diversity of perspective from the outset.

I like this viewpoint; “I however will argue here about something beyond the need for diversity. I will argue that our A.I. future should be led by women and not by men. The reason for this is that women have a greater intuitive understanding of what makes us all human. Women have a natural inclination to focus on the important things that make us human. To maximize the benefit of AI technology we must focus on how AI improves our humanity and therefore we need to understand, at the very least, what makes us human and not what makes us machines. [Carlos E. Perez, Intuition Machine].

It would be a dark day for women and other under-represented groups if we allow AI to completely eradicate the need for the human touch. After all, women are not phased by dealing with complex human issues. It is now that we need to ensure we are present and heard above the noise of all the machines!

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