AI remains a ‘sea of dudes’

1 min read

An interesting piece of research suggests that films are perpetuating the view that artificial intelligence is the preserve of men.

A host of films from Hollywood and from around the world are helping to entrench that view and are driving systemic gender inequality at a time when the wider electronics and engineering sectors are crying out for more skilled workers.

The research, conducted by the University of Cambridge, found that the predominance of male characters in film – such as Iron Man in the Avengers – were shaping perceptions amongst the wider population and could be contributing to a startling lack of women wanting to work in AI.

A ‘sea of dudes’ according to former Microsoft employee Margaret Mitchell dominates the sector and the research suggests that its critical that AI recruits more women to avoid the encoding of bias and stereotypes into AI technologies.

Over 1400 films made since 1920 were reviewed and the research showed that in almost all cases men were shown as the leading AI professional. Of 116 characters classed as ‘AI professionals’, 92 per cent were men, with representations of women consisting of a total of eight scientists and one CEO.

It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation for film makers though as most AI professionals tend to be men, so are they simply reflecting the current state of the market? While that may be true, around a fifth of AI engineers are women so the lack of positive representation in film is a genuine concern.

Is this kind of research relevant? Well, yes. As Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton has said, there is an ‘urgent’ need to see increased diversity in AI and we should be doing everything we can to encourage more women to enter the industry.

Cultural perceptions do have an important role to play – as the research suggested, mainstream films are an enormously influential source and amplifier of the cultural stereotypes that help dictate who is suited to a career in AI - and we urgently need to encourage a new generation of women to enter AI, electronics and engineering, because by not doing so we are continuing to waste an awful lot of great talent.