Research explores perceptions and challenges, urging increased female participation for equitable AI development.
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Breaking binary code: Navigating gender and feminist frontiers in artificial intelligence

Research explores perceptions and challenges, urging increased female participation for equitable AI development.

Research in developing nations, particularly in South Asia, shows a stark contrast to industrialised countries regarding studies on the impact of AI on women. In these regions, traditional views often confine women to domestic roles and limit their presence in leadership positions. They encounter workplace bias and disproportionately high rates of underemployment. The crucial question is whether AI’s emergence will exacerbate the already precarious situation of South Asian women. It’s important to understand their perception of AI and whether it could increase their hardships or offer liberation.

Globally, men dominate 78% of AI positions, with women holding just 22%, as reported by the World Economic Forum in 2018. Furthermore, a Wired.com report in 2018 highlights that only 12% of machine learning researchers are women. This imbalance is concerning in a field poised to transform society, potentially reinforcing male dominance due to the low female representation in technology.

Gender bias and feminisation trends in AI development

The development of AI systems raises issues of gender bias, as creators might unknowingly embed their own gender stereotypes into the technology. This is evident in existing machine learning trends, which often reinforce outdated notions about women, such as modesty and the need for protection. For instance, security robots are predominantly male, while service and sex robots are usually female. In legal risk analysis, AI-powered algorithms may disadvantage women by overlooking their lower likelihood of reoffending compared to men.

Gendering robots as female often makes AI more palatable, enhancing their perceived humanity and marketability. Users tend to view female AI as more reliable, empathetic, and better suited to their needs. This trend towards feminising robots is a strategy to humanise them within a male-dominated robotic society. The minimal contribution of women in the field raises concerns that machine learning systems could develop with inherent biases. It’s essential to increase female participation in AI to prevent these biases and ensure a more balanced and equitable development of technology.

Methodology

To investigate these issues, a vignette experiment with 125 female and 100 male volunteers. The study used an online survey to recruit participants. It involves primarily university students from India (76%), aged between 16 and 60 years, averaging 27.25 years. This methodology aimed to gather insights into gender perceptions of AI in the developing world.

Women are underrepresented in authority in the developing world, especially in South Asia, due to the housewife stereotype. Therefore, answering whether AI would acerbate South Asian women’s already fragile status or act as a liberator is crucial.

Shailendra Kumar
Research explores perceptions and challenges, urging increased female participation for equitable AI development.
Credit. Midjourney

Findings and discussion

The study reveals concerns about AI robots’ impact on human relationships in the developing world. With lifestyles evolving and human interactions becoming more complex, people might increasingly prefer AI companionship. Respondents fear that extensive reliance on AI technology could threaten human existence, leading to prejudiced and isolated societies. There’s a widespread apprehension that robots could eventually outsmart humans, exploiting them in the process.

The research also highlights concerns about AI’s influence on gender dynamics, especially in countries like India. This echoes previous worries about the misuse of technologies like sonography in gender selection. Interestingly, the study found significant gender differences in perceptions of AI robots. However, no notable gender disparities were observed in the requirements and usage of AI robots.

The expectation is that living with AI robots will soon become a reality, with their ethnic and racial appearance possibly influencing consumer preferences. Respondents suggested different ethical programming for male and female robots. Except for sex and love robots, the demand for various types of robots, including assistant, teaching, entertainment, household, and care robots, was similar among both genders. Notably, 24% of male and 8.8% of female respondents expressed interest in sex and love robots, indicating a gender gap in this area.

Romantic relationships with AI

The study also indicates a general hesitation towards engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with AI, with women showing more reluctance and aversion, possibly due to feelings of jealousy and insecurity. Men in developing countries, as per the study, are more open to the idea of sex robots, underscoring gender differences in emotional and sexual preferences.

Regarding the gender of robots, the study found no significant difference in male and female respondents’ preferences. However, most respondents believe gender plays a role in AI robot development. Both men and women think AI will impact their gender the most. While there’s a consensus that female robots are perceived differently, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re seen as more humane. The feminisation of robots is generally viewed as a marketing strategy to humanise and enhance their acceptability. Finally, the study reveals that 55.11% of respondents are concerned that using feminine features in robots could reinforce female stereotypes. This indicates an awareness of potential gender biases in AI development and its societal implications.

Conclusions

The study challenges the notion that assigning gender to AI robots enhances acceptance, as gender does not influence a robot’s functionality or performance. Contrary to common beliefs, the research shows that women in developing countries like India are not particularly fearful of living with AI robots in the future. Both men and women acknowledge that AI will significantly impact both genders. Most participants in the study perceive female robots differently, yet they do not necessarily view them as more compassionate than male robots. Drawing parallels with the misuse of sonography for gender selection, respondents express concern about AI’s potential impact on gender balance in countries such as India.

The research suggests that evolving lifestyles and increasing complexities in human relationships may lead people to coexist with AI robots. The rising costs and challenges of maintaining a protein-based lifestyle could prompt a shift towards robotic companionship as a practical alternative. Additionally, there is a prevalent fear among people in developing nations that robots might eventually surpass human intelligence. This innate dread reflects apprehensions about the future implications of AI’s rapid advancement and its potential to outsmart humans. The study highlights these complex perceptions and concerns surrounding AI and its integration into daily life, indicating a nuanced understanding of the technology’s impact on society and gender dynamics.

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Journal reference

Kumar, S., & Choudhury, S. (2022). Gender and feminist considerations in artificial intelligence from a developing-world perspective, with India as a case study. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications9(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1080/14488388.2023.2199600

Shailendra Kumar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management at Sikkim University, Gangtok, India. Business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and artificial intelligence are among his research and specialization areas. He has written extensively on the topic of Artificial Intelligence and ethics.

Sanghamitra Choudhury is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bodoland University (a public university) in Assam, India. She has been a Post-Doctoral Senior Fellow at the University of Oxford, a Charles Wallace Fellow at Queen's University, Belfast, a UN International Law Fellow at The Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands, and a Consultant at UNIFEM in India.