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Will robots take women’s jobs?

Mercedes Benz: Tabitha Goldstaub speaking into a microphone and looking up.
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Tech entrepreneur Tabitha Goldstaub addresses the lack of diversity in the AI industry.

AI needs a community of women if it wants to form an inclusive environment of reflection. Tabitha Goldstaub, AI expert, denounces the tech branch’s homogeneity and explains how it can inspire women of all ages to pursue tech jobs.

Tabitha, what can we expect if only young men build robots?

Machines catch the bias of whoever builds and trains them. If only men encode robots, the machines will likely have an unconscious bias. I think we are grappling with a rather consequential truth.

What are some examples?

Microsoft trained its bot Tay on the Twittersphere, and in less than 24 hours the AI became a racist, sexist bigot. Qualities and skills like empathy, nurturing, listening, multi-tasking, intuition, teaching and mothering need to be involved in training AI machines. How, then, do we ensure that they are at the table? We’re talking about the risk of our unconscious sexism or unconscious racism seeping into the machines we’re building. Another example: women looking for a job in this field won’t find the same opportunities online as men because AI has learned women don’t normally apply for these jobs. So it doesn’t show them.

There must be other reasons women are so underrepresented in this field.

The biggest challenge we face is perception. When we are young, we perceive that maths, science and computers are made for boys, and frilly, delicate pastimes are for girls. By the time we get to university, young women have little exposure to and no interest in computer science. And the worst part is that when a woman finally gets into the field, she earns less and endures more than her male colleagues – terrific! It’s hard enough to get in the door, and then it all gets worse.

Yet here you are: a woman in AI. What did your parents do differently from others?

Both my parents were feminists and raised me to think what I want and do what I want. My mum says there was a whole year when I wore only dresses. For a while after that, I wore only trousers, even to a ball or to a party. They allowed me that freedom and never said something wasn’t meant for me or wasn’t right for me. Their parenting style made it so much easier for me to navigate my own path. I could be myself. I think that young age is so important.

Even if you don’t win in the moment, people will remember you were ready and you knew your stuff. Tabitha Goldstaub

How can we better empower young female talents?

Women have to look out for other women. The more we can do that, the better the world will be.

Why do girls not choose AI themselves?

They lack role models. Girls need people to look up to. Except for people like Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook and Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, women in the industry don’t get a lot of attention.

Without role models, girls are hard-pressed to imagine a similar career for themselves, despite often performing better than boys in maths and computer science. We need more initiatives and workshops to excite girls and women about programming and careers in tech, but we also need to be mindful of our most fatal error: how poorly we treat women when they finally do get a tech job. As I said, after all their hard work, they still earn less than their male counterparts. This is unfair, and certainly no way to show appreciation.

And how important is diversity?

The field must be diverse. We don’t need all-women groups or all-men groups, we need a mixture.

What five skills should female tech leaders have?

Since a typical female trait is the wish to please people and seem nice, my number-one tip for how women can get ahead is to be the most prepared person in the room. Then no one can catch you off guard and you will always pull ahead. Even if you don’t win in the moment, people will remember you were ready and you knew your stuff. They also need thick skin, they need to be brave and they can’t take things personally if they want to make it through painful situations. Like today: I arrived here and I thought, “I’m tired, I’m scared, I don’t want to be here.” That’s exactly when you need to tell yourself to be brave.

Info: Tabitha Goldstaub, co-founder of the London-based CognitionX, advises companies on how to use artificial intelligence. She is also head of the UK Government’s AI Council.