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How sexist is artificial intelligence?

2019: Apple offers its own credit card – the company also uses artificial intelligence (AI) to check who qualifies and under what conditions someone can get a card. At that time, there were increasing reports that women and men were apparently rated differently, for example by giving women with the same financial conditions a lower credit card limit. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak experienced this, he wrote on Twitter at the time:

Another example: The goods giant Amazon had used artificial intelligence in the application process – after a while it came out that women were sorted out more often, the algorithm had a preference for male candidates.

AI excludes women

These two examples are not the only cases in which the question had to be asked: How sexist is artificial intelligence actually – and why? "If you look at the composition of the tech industry, it's mostly white and male. These people make decisions for the rest of humanity," says Mia Shah-Dand. She founded a consulting firm in California that works for more justice in the tech world and especially in the field of artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are used in facial recognition software, for example. There, the software turned out to be racist and sexist: Because the artificial intelligence was particularly bad at capturing the faces of black women – a problem that can be really dangerous in law enforcement. "What does that mean for women? These systems were not created for us. Especially for women who are not white," complains Shah-Dand. "Without representation, these systems cannot do justice to these groups."

Women dramatically underrepresented

According to the business magazine "Forbes", only just over 20 percent of women work in connection with artificial intelligence. But the problem can only be solved if tech companies become more diverse: by hiring more women, non-binary and non-white people. Shah-Dand wants to change that with her consulting company. She is the founder of the global Women in AI Ethics initiative, the leading resource for recognizing, recruiting and promoting talented women in the field. Her goal: to give these women a voice – because they were often drowned out by their colleagues.

But it's not that easy to get women excited about the industry, because there are numerous problems: "They're often not the friendliest environments for women, they're often toxic," says Shah-Dand. "When women work there, the question is: are they supported, can they draw attention to injustice? More women are good – but we also have to protect them."

Sexism and abuse are the order of the day

There are numerous examples: At the game company Activision Blizzard there was systematic sexism up to and including abuse, which was kept under lock and key by the top authorities for a long time. Frances Haugen, who denounced Facebook and Instagram's malicious algorithm, was sharply attacked by the parent company after the revelations.

Shah-Dand also accuses the industry of having a "fanboy syndrome": Leaders like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs were downright idolized. Strong women were the exception. But change is urgently needed, she says, if technologies like artificial intelligence are to serve us all and not just "a handful of white men."

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