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UK citizens call for diversity in AI to be addressed

Public wants government and tech companies to tackle diversity issues related to the application of artificial intelligence, a study has found

UK citizens feel artificial intelligence (AI) requires human intervention and that it should be down to the government and the technology industry to address issues inherent to the application of AI, such as gender diversity, research has found.

According to a study by Censuswide on behalf of data visualisation company Qlik, familiarity of AI among the general public has increased, with 64% aware that the technology is a machine or computer system that emulates human intelligence, rather than a physical robot.

Some 25% of those polled believe AI can bring benefits to society, and only 13% believe it is “a force for evil”. With more awareness of what the technology actually is, the debate has started to shift from AI as a catalyst for job losses to how it will evolve in future.

Of the 2,000 UK-based adults surveyed, 86% feel AI needs more human supervision, 41% feel AI in its current state is biased, and 38% blame that issue on inaccurate data.

Driving more gender diversity in AI is a responsibility of the tech industry, according to 32% of respondents, while 31% called on the government to take on that responsibility.

“Bias is often caused by incomplete data sets and, perhaps most importantly, a lack of context around those data sets,” said Elif Tutuk, senior director of research at Qlik. “So, for example, when we ask a question as a human, we ask it based on a hypothesis, which makes that question inherently biased from the get-go.

“For the AI industry to grow and flourish, it needs trust at its core. Trust is shaped by human experiences, and we need greater attention paid to the many different human experiences that can create more balanced AI for all.”

Tutuk said that although it has been established by the industry that Alexa is a woman and Watson is a man, more emphasis must be placed on the data behind AI and who is programming it.

“If we can empower more men and women to become more data literate – having a better understanding of how to read, analyse and understand data – we can create a more level playing field for the growth of the UK’s AI industry,” she added.

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Earlier this month, the government announced an investment of up to £18.5m to support efforts to enhance diversity in AI and data science roles.

At the CogX event during London Tech Week, AI skills champion Wendy Hall highlighted the importance of gender diversity in AI programming. “We’ve got a talent pipeline that is not diverse in gender – and that is so important, especially given the bias issues,” she said.

“We are all biased anyway, but if you have a [limited] subset of society building the algorithms, that is not good for society – and we absolutely have to make that part of the ethical framework for AI.”

Hall was referring to the prevalence of the young, white male stereotype in the digital industry and in AI roles in particular.

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