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WiCipedia: AI's Data Mining Bias & Small Conferences Take More Risks

Eryn Leavens
11/15/2019

This week in our WiCipedia roundup: Smaller conferences have edge; Hidden Figures ladies formally celebrated; AI is sexist; and more.

  • We've talked a lot about how AI has gender equity problems, and The New York Times just published a piece that may explain why. For AI to learn our ways, it has to mine data from pretty much everything humans have ever written, and you might be surprised to learn that the majority of that isn't feminist, equality-focused literature of the highest degree. The article explains, "In 99 cases out of 100, [a new AI technology] was more likely to associate words with men rather than women. The word 'mom' was the outlier." Luckily, now that scientists are aware of this phenomenon, they are able to redirect the system to disregard biases and acknowledge that women are 50% of the population. (See WiCipedia: Fembots Create Gender Divide & Snap Tackles Culture Issues.)

    Data Mining at Its Finest
    (Source: Pixabay)
    (Source: Pixabay)

  • NASA's "Hidden Figures," the four African-American women "who did the complex calculations that made space travel possible," have been much talked about in recent years, mostly due to the movie of the same name, which was released in 2016. CNN explained that these four women -- engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan -- recently received the most notable civilian government award, the Congressional Gold Medal, given in the US. Vaughan and Jackson accepted the awards posthumously. Additionally, the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act, which honors all of the women who contributed efforts to NASA during the Space Race, was signed into law this past Friday. (See WiCipedia: NASA's Beauty Queen & Coding for a Cause in OKC.)

  • Ada's List, a network for women in STEM, held a conference this week in London focusing on innovation and inclusion. While much smaller than the recent Grace Hopper Celebration, Ada's List was able to offer a range of keynotes on topics such as activism, conflict-affected countries and ethics in product design, which made us think that smaller conferences (with fewer mega-corporate backers) may have a leg up on edginess. Our favorite example of this was in the tweet below, which showcases a slide in a presentation that we don't think would have passed muster at Mobile World Congress, for instance (typo notwithstanding). (See WiCipedia: Tech's Litigation 'Wake-Up Call' & Gates Donates $1B for Gender Equality.)

  • CNET reports that Microsoft has recently released its first diversity report. While the company has previously made public basic workplace demographic stats, this is the first time it's delved deep into its diversity efforts (and outcomes). "We wanted to be able to show our work and progress in both [diversity and inclusion], knowing that we are not where we want to be and we will worker harder to continue to be even better," said Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, Microsoft's chief diversity officer . Microsoft's numbers are pretty average for the tech sector -- 27.6% female employees company-wide -- yet "88% of respondents felt 'positive sentiments when it came to factors like authenticity, belonging, and a belief in Microsoft's commitment to diversity,' " which we thought was pretty commendable for a company of Microsoft's size. (See Undeterred, More Women Are Applying for Technical Roles Each Year.)

    — Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, Light Reading

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