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Women In Comms

WiCipedia: Coded Bias sheds light on facial recognition inequalities

This week in our WiCipedia roundup: AI needs an overhaul; only 5% of tech roles are held by women of color; women take on the autonomous vehicle industry; and more.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic may have set back a lot of diversity and inclusion goals at companies as the virus ravaged whole communities, but artificial intelligence (AI) may be the way to make up for lost time. An article on CNBC explains that groundbreaking technologies like AI and machine learning will need to pick up the pace to bridge the inequality gap, which has only increased over the past year. However, while the uses of these burgeoning technologies are limitless, the way they work is still flawed. "AI can really be used in every area, where we need to make progress as human beings. So whether that's on climate change, or health care, or an education," says Kay Firth-Butterfield, head of AI and machine learning at the World Economic Forum. "We need data to train the models and we need that data to not be prejudiced," she said, adding that Internet access is also a huge barrier to entry for developing countries' access to tech and "debiasing AI." Not to mention, most AI is designed by men. If there were ever a time for new technology to embrace diversity, though, it would be now. (See WiCipedia: Women leave workforce in droves due to pandemic and burnout.)

  • Along the same vein, the new documentary Coded Bias examines how facial recognition technology has failed pretty much everyone except for white men, explains an article in Forbes. The documentary, which is now available on Netflix, explains that not only is the technology incapable of distinguishing Black and Brown faces, it often can't even recognize women. This enormous flaw has created huge civil rights issues and perpetuates injustices to all minorities. Shouldn't tech be working towards creating solutions instead of making more problems? "Just as we need conscious checks on our own biases, facial recognition software needs that as well. I had no idea the scope of invasive surveillance, the preciseness to which they can predict our behavior, and how vulnerable all of us can be to predatory practices because of these algorithms. We need to look at how humanity gets lost when we prioritize efficiency at the cost of all else," said the film's director, Shalini Kantayya. (See WiCipedia: Facial recognition tech's heyday is over.)

    The many faces of AI
    (Source: Pixabay)
    (Source: Pixabay)

  • Autonomous vehicles are quickly becoming more and more popular, and the industry could easily be construed as a tech sector that is completely dominated by men. Not so, says this article in Forbes, which explains that women are making waves in the world of self-driving cars. One quarter of the 12 leading US autonomous vehicle companies are led by women – that may not seem like much, but considering that many boards don't even have one female member yet, it's quite substantial. Alisyn Malek, cofounder of autonomous shuttle startup May Mobility and executive director of the Washington-based Commission on the Future of Mobility, said, "I've been really excited to see the number of women interested in autonomous technology. There's an appreciation for what it can do for people, what it's going to unlock. The talent pool that AV is able to pull from is broader because we've never done it before." (See WiCipedia: Female Founders Find Funding & Automotive Careers for Women.)

  • Recently we wrote about Command Shift, a brand-new coalition of mega-companies that are partnering with nonprofit NPower to close the pay gap for women in tech. TechRepublic spoke with Bertina Ceccarelli, CEO of NPower, about the dearth of women of color in tech and what the organization is doing about it. With only 5% of tech roles filled by women of color in the US – even though women of color comprise more than 20% of the US population! – the numbers clearly aren't adding up. NPower works to train women for tech jobs, but it also works to dismantle myths about the industry and what types of people can work in tech. "One of the barriers is particularly for young women, there is an entrenched belief that a tech job is all about coding and bro culture. And sure coding is a really, really important part of technology, but there are hundreds of career paths and a lot of great companies who have supportive cultures who are really eager and interested in cultivating and developing great talent." (See WiCipedia: Founders battle anti-racism, fight for equal-opportunity funding and WiCipedia: Command Shift aims to bring gender equality in tech to the 21st century.)

  • Telecom company Orange is planning the construction of a new cable ship, and it's to be named in honor of a woman. A press release reports that the ship, C/S Sophie Germain, is named "in tribute to the French mathematician, physician, and philosopher, and expert in number theory. A self-taught pioneer, she was the first woman to receive the Mathematical Sciences Grand Prize from the French Academy of Sciences in 1816." The vessel will be sent out to repair submarine cables, and will be the first of its kind, much like its namesake. It will also boast cutting-edge, energy-efficient equipment and will cut CO2 emissions by 20%.

    — Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, Light Reading. Follow us on Twitter @LR_WiC and contact Eryn directly at [email protected].

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