The Daily Illini

Stop designing female-only AIs

By Claire Joyce, Columnist

The scientific world is continuing to make huge leaps with artificial intelligence. The idea of creating an intelligent being has captivated humans for centuries. On Oct. 10 at a conference in Los Angeles, Magic Leap, an augmented reality and computer vision company, presented Mica. Mica is possibly the most realistic, human-looking AI to date.

Today, we are far past ideas of Frankenstein-like creations. AI lives inside our phones and homes. This exciting field of technology is evolving and modernizing every day in every way but one: gender.

From Siri to Alexa to Ex Machina and now Mica, why are AIs almost always female?

When AIs continue to be created with female voices, physical features and gestures, this promotes the idea of assistant and submissive roles in society belonging to women.

When you want to know the weather or change the music, who do you ask? Siri and Alexa — two AIs with female voices. In the wildly successful film “Ex Machina,” exclusively female AIs are presented and kept as sex slaves for their creator, a male entrepreneurial genius. With last week’s reveal of Mica, people will be able to see a visual, virtual assistant woman help them with anything from controlling smart home devices to responding to questions with complex and elaborate answers.

Our scientific communities are progressing in research knowledge and technological capabilities; so, their projection of gender roles should, too. AIs are often created as assistants to humans or secondary companions.

In doing so, our “evolving” society perpetuates age-old sexist ideals that women are meant to be obedient, submissive and complementary to their more masculine, and therefore “dominant,” counterparts. In a growing society, we cannot overlook this dangerous pattern in AI representation.  

With phones and virtual assistants, young people interact with AIs on a daily basis. It is a part of our society, however new it may be, that is becoming increasingly habitual in our lives. This makes the weight of the AI gender inequality and its consequences that much greater.

Today, children are growing up alongside artificial intelligence. Instead of playing with toys or sitting at the dinner table interacting with family members, many children are handed phones or tablets to entertain themselves. Children today watch their parents order things off Amazon, search the internet or play music simply by telling their virtual assistant to do so.

When children grow up hearing a female voice obediently comply with these demands, this perpetuates a culture accepting the notion that subordinate positions are somehow fundamentally female.

With artificial intelligence, humans are given a spectacular opportunity to push a new reflection of humanity forward. AIs have the ability to represent a new wave of cultural ideals. Continuing outdated sexist ideas cannot continue with such modern technology. Those leading the creation of AIs cannot let this regressive pattern become lost and embedded in the middle of so much progression. The scientific community must realize its responsibility to create with a strong consciousness in the power its work holds — not just technologically, but also socially.

The community must be aware that, in the process of pushing forward, it does not slip back.

Claire is a sophomore in ACES.

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