The future is female but it sure is terrible in many ways

These latest AI products are killing social progress

I was recently invited to speak at ADMA’s Global Summit on the critical role diversity and inclusion plays in innovation. The key takeaway from my panel discussion is that women are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to tech.

Gender stereotypes are continually being perpetuated by tech companies and the coolest and latest tech just isn’t built for women or by women.

Even at Transhumanism AU, a social organisation I co-founded, we have a female problem. Lack of female representation that is.

Sex robots are becoming mainstream but does that make it right?

The sex industry is one of the earliest adopters of technology and usually provides a good window into the next major types of exponential technologies coming our way.

You may not be surprised that sex robots are increasing in popularity, that 27% of millenials would consider dating a robot, and that by 2050 human-robot relationships may be more common that human-human relationships.

You may also not be surprised that currently sex robots made by companies like Realbotix, Synthea Amatus, Doll Sweet, Z-onedoll and AI Tech are mostly female.

As most of the activity is happening behind closed bedroom doors, and as the taboo around the topic of sex pervades, the social and ethical implications of sex robots aren’t being talked about and addressed.

There are questions such as: Do these toys promote unhealthy relationships towards women? Does it lead to objectification and abuse?

Is Westworld enough to persuade us not to mistreat robots?

Robots playing the role of madams and prostitutes, were also featured in popular HBO series Westworld.

In the wild west themed theme park where the robots live, theme park guests are given the opportunity to indulge in their most vile and hedonistic fantasies.

Unfortunately for the guests, these robots become sentient with perfect memories of the atrocities guests have inflicted on them and soon enough guests are in danger.

Maybe this highly plausible scenario is enough to deter anyone behaving badly towards a robot?

Alexa, Siri, and Cortana are female but not feminist

In voice assistants, research commonly reveals that consumers prefer a voice that is obedient and subservient.

It just so happens that voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa have default female voices and female sounding names.

While it could be argued that companies are only giving consumers what they want, products like these reinforce gender stereotypes and expectations. This is an issue we’ve been looking at through Transhumanism AU.

Google’s voice assistant is smart but could sure use some street smarts

Google’s Duplex voice assistant wowed everyone when it was first released onstage in a live demo. In the demo, the voice assistant, which happens to be a female voice, called up a hair salon to make an appointment.

The voice sounded more human-like and natural than any digital assistant ever made, and even fooled the hair salon into thinking it was speaking to another human.

Caught up in the excitement, some people may have missed the dialogue in which the voice assistant asks for a ‘woman’s haircut’ — words few women would ever utter.

Amazon’s AI hiring tool doesn’t like women

Amazon created an AI tool to help with its hiring process. It was recently discovered to be biased against female candidates and Amazon decided to switch it off.

This was due to its machine learning models mostly being fed resumes from male candidates for software developer and other technical roles.

Selecting male resumes to train the models with was not done on purpose, they were simply looking for patterns in submitted resumes, and males have dominated their tech workforce in the last ten years.

While Amazon was able to pick up on the bias, this begs the question, how many other products out there have algorithmic bias?

Algorithmic bias is especially a worry where products are built by majority male engineering teams and which are using male-centric data.

Women are the biggest losers in the fourth industrial revolution

According to the World Economic Forum, women stand to be the biggest losers in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, it seems women won’t only be the biggest losers in terms of jobs but also in terms of products that impede their social progress or are just not catered to them.

Tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have the opportunity to change the status quo and create equality, yet they are designing the world as it is, not as the world should be.

Some of that could be attributed to the fact that, on average, males still lead the pack in major tech companies in terms of leadership positions and engineering roles. This isn’t too far off the mark given Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jeff Bezos lead some of the world’s most valuable tech companies.

Gendered robots and voice assistants contribute to a big problem for society:

  • How do you encourage your daughter to pursue a career in science and engineering when she is surrounded by female service robots?
  • How do you encourage your son to respect women when he is calling out demands all day to a female voice assistant?

If women don’t act now, it’s likely male designed AI will take over our lives.

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I only write about exponential tech and transhumanism. Follow me on Medium if you also want to know how to make sense of a world impacted by AI, blockchain and other exponential technologies.