Right now, the real danger in the world of artificial intelligence isn’t the threat of robot overlords — it’s a startling lack of diversity.
There’s no doubt Stephen Hawking is a smart guy. But the world-famous theoretical physicist recently declared that women leave him stumped.
“Women should remain a mystery,” Hawking wrote in response to a Reddit user’s question about the realm of the unknown that intrigued him most. While Hawking’s remark was meant to be light-hearted, he sounded quite serious discussing the potential dangers of artificial intelligence during Reddit’s online Q&A session:
The real risk with AI isn’t malice but competence. A superintelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we’re in trouble.
Hawking’s comments might seem unrelated. But according to some women at the forefront of computer science, together they point to an unsettling truth. Right now, the real danger in the world of artificial intelligence isn’t the threat of robot overlords—it’s a startling lack of diversity.
I spoke with a few current and emerging female leaders in robotics and artificial intelligence about how a preponderance of white men have shaped the fields—and what schools can do to get more women and minorities involved. Here’s what I learned:
- Hawking’s offhand remark about women is indicative of the gender stereotypes that continue to flourish in science.
- Fewer women are pursuing careers in artificial intelligence because the field tends to de-emphasize humanistic goals.
- There may be a link between the homogeneity of AI researchers and public fears about scientists who lose control of superintelligent machines.
- To close the diversity gap, schools need to emphasize the humanistic applications of artificial intelligence.
- A number of women scientists are already advancing the range of applications for robotics and artificial intelligence.
- Robotics and artificial intelligence don’t just need more women—they need more diversity across the board.
In general, many women are driven by the desire to do work that benefits their communities, desJardins says. Men tend to be more interested in questions about algorithms and mathematical properties.
Since men have come to dominate AI, she says, “research has become very narrowly focused on solving technical problems and not the big questions.”