Artificial Intelligence is nowadays one of the most popular topics to discus upon. It only continues to significantly increase in its role in business and daily life in general. It is important to discuss that what role women are likely to play in the world of Artificial Intelligence, writes Nandita Koshal, Research Associate, International Institute for Higher Education Research and Capacity Building, O P Jindal Global University.
AI and IoT technologies are increasingly being fashioned on women and their perceived roles. They play the role of our guide as GPS that takes us to our destination; as Cortana and Siri they become our personal assistants who aid in expediting our day to day commitments; and as Alexa and Google play they become our companions and friends who respect and fulfil our requests. It often makes one wonder why all these technologies have woman automated voices along with feminine names. The argument becomes even more compelling when we see the existence of social humanoid female robots like Nadine and Sophia. And now as women Artificial Intelligence have started dominating in the popular entertainment culture as Tony stark’s trusted AI ‘Friday’ in Avenger series (a selection made after being betrayed by his own creation Ultron), a lonely man’s sole companion in ‘Her’ or as conscious synths to ‘Humans’, a stronger attention to this trend is drawn.
There is a growing concern amongst a certain section that such technologies may provide a direct competition to the roles that have been traditionally viewed as the domain of the women, signaling to the society that the role of women is replaceable by technological innovation and AI This is further accentuated by the reports by World Economic Forum and IMF that have highlighted that women face a higher risk of being pushed out of the workforce by automation and Artificial Intelligence an inference incumbent on the fact that occupations that have the highest risk of automation like cashiers, caregivers, and sale operators, employ higher proportion of female workers. Therefore, can we conclude AI is a threat to women at both personal and professional fronts? Not necessarily.
While it indeed makes one think why developers have made AI inherently feminine, the probable reason could be to make technology more trusting, acceptable and seductive. The traits of trust, loyalty, patience, effective communication, empathy, care, companionship are often associated more with women. Using automated female voice for AI or IoT makes one less vary and more open to their usage. The trust that they emanate enables them to become more intimate part of our lives both at home and at workplace. However, as AI takes over these mundane jobs, should women be worried about their role and positions? On the contrary women should view Artificial Intelligence and technological innovation as an elixir for rejuvenating their perceived roles.
As more and more routine jobs are automated, it provides women with a much needed impetus and push to explore the hitherto less ventured field of technology. According to Amrita Choudhury, Lead Asia-Pacific Internet Society-Women Special Internet Group and President & Director, CCAOI, “The advent of new technologies such as A.I is an opportunity for women especially in emerging countries like India to acquire new technological skills, apply for new types of jobs and get into new bastions which till now have been male dominated. Such an environment will also encourage more women to take up STEM studies”. Her statement acquires special significance in the light of the findings of various agencies on growing skill gap.
The National Sample Survey of India has pitched the ratio of men to women in highly skilled occupations to roughly four to one. Similarly, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has propounded the gender gap especially among Artificial Intelligence professionals to be more than three times and has expressed concern that “unless women are encouraged to enter the field of science, technology and engineering, the gender skill gap could widen”. In this context, the area of AI and new technologies presents a massive opportunity for women to narrow down the gender gap and break into new fields as programme developers, coders, technological entrepreneurs, heads of technological organizations, and policymakers. In fact, Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa recently observed that ‘increased access to the Internet would bridge women’s skill gap’.
Concurring with Vera, Shveta Kokash, Vice-President, ISOC (Internet Society) India Mumbai, an international not-for-profit, says, “A good understanding of Internet and related e-learning applications, technologies, machine learning undeniably provides women with greater opportunities in the job market. Artificial Intelligence hold the promise of reinventing our professional experiences as a woman. To leverage this, technology related skillsets and self-awareness will play a critical role.”
AI and other technologies in a way are giving women a chance to redefine and reimagine their roles, passions, professions and lives. It would hence be difficult to say if woman is reshaping Artificial Intelligence or AI is redefining the woman, but one can foretell that future of AI is Woman.