Why the lack of diversity in AI tech is a mounting problem

Sage's Kriti Sharma calls for diversity in AI tech as the sector eyes rapid growth.

According to Kriti Sharma, Sage’s VP Bots and AI, developers need to consider diversity and avoid mistakes of the past as they build the new generation of AI technology.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sharma stressed the importance of developing AI systems that promote diversity by making sure they’re hiring developers from diverse backgrounds. “The lack of diversity in the AI developer community means that we aren’t getting enough variety in the information which we are inputting to AI machines.  This means that AI systems are working with incomplete data, data which is skewed to the perspectives of the engineers who develop them”.

Sharma believes developer communities should take the initiative to ensure tomorrow’s technology accurately reflects the world in a way which our current work, news and information environments do not. Specifically, by focusing on engineers, data quality, and being mindful of stereotypes.

Tech companies should continue work being done to increase workforce diversity, in order that AI learns from a broad spectrum of society, and accurately represents the people using it, says Sharma.

She also believes that diverse data inputs will ensure a diverse knowledge base, and reduce bias in the information AI can provide. For example, Wikipedia is a common input source for AI machines, but only 17 per cent of the notable personalities on Wikipedia are female. This kind of bias compromises AI’s ability to inform us in the future.

“AI has the potential to provide a paradigm shift for our society.  As developers, we have both the opportunity and responsibility to make sure that the virtual world we are creating is as diverse as possible – ideally an even better world than the one we’ve created for ourselves,” Sharma adds. “Future generations will come to rely on the data we are inputting to systems today, so it’s critical that we open AI up to everyone, irrespective of gender, language or culture.”

Developers also need to be aware of the potential harm of gender stereotyping. Many of the virtual assistants developed today use female voices by default, so tomorrow’s AI should be mindful of gender stereotypes when it comes to bot roles and personalities.  If it isn’t, it will reaffirm today’s gender bias, rather than resolve it, Sharma concludes.

As an accounting and enterprise software company, Sage’s own AI initiatives has led it to develop the world’s first accounting chatbot, Pegg, which will be integrated into its cloud accounting solutions.

Pegg is a smart assistant that can track expenses and manage finances through popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Slack. In the last six months since its launch, Pegg has attracted 20,000 Sage users in 110 countries to the concept of invisible accounting. Market research from Sage has also shown that two in three small business owners would welcome invisible accounting, while a majority see AI (58 per cent) as the biggest tech trend for 2017. Many see this as the beginning of an ‘admin free world’, to which two in three business owners are looking forward.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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