Beware of Bias, Embrace Diversity

Why diversity is key to understanding tomorrow

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June 7, 2022

Artificial intelligence has been proven to show bias, not as a product of itself but as a result of the data it has been fed in the machine learning process. Prejudice against women, people of colour and people with different religious beliefs, among others, is an issue that is deeply embedded in our history, and thus our data. Things are slowly changing, but if we fail to pay special attention to promoting diversity, any progress we have made could quickly be reversed.

According to UNESCO, the gender biases found in data sets and algorithms may serve to further spread and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. AI is made by humans and, as a result, it reflects any conscious and unconscious bias we may have.

There are several problems that must be tackled if we want AI to promote equality across the board, in terms of gender, ethnicity, religion and more. First of all, we need to ensure that we collect data from all segments of society and, rather than just collating it all together, make sure that it is disaggregated. In this way, we can provide better solutions for the whole of society, not just the average of the whole (we already talked about how averages can be skewed when we talked about old economic theory).

Another problem we must consider is the development and problem-solving team. STEM subjects are traditionally dominated by white males, but in order for the machine not to show any bias, it must be trained by a truly diverse team, made up of people from different backgrounds.

Given that we’re talking about learning in ecosystems, inherent bias in AI and big data is an enormous hurdle that must be overcome, but bias is also a problem for companies as a whole. COVID-19 showed us that the system had broken, that we can’t continue perpetuating an economic model that was good for profit but bad for people and planet. Now’s the time for people, society and business to create a dynamic balance for the world of tomorrow.

Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.
- Simone de Beauvoir

Fluid, dynamic ecosystems will allow us to ride the wave of change. We can either wait on the beach, stuck in the old economic mindset, until the tsunami swallows us whole, or we can be a surfer riding the wave, ready to adapt and grow as the surroundings change. What we need in order to do this is data and not data that comes from the world view of a white male. No, we need data from many touch points. We will process this data to glean information that will influence the central brain. If we only have data from the perspective of a white male, then our brain will be one-dimensional. We’ll be stranded on that beach watching the wave approach. Diversity is key to feeding a dynamic brain that allows us to build systems that grow faster and are more sustainable. Diversity matters.

Just like artificial intelligence, companies need to rely on a diverse team and data sets that cover all backgrounds to create a dynamic environment capable of responding to challenges. Every decision, no matter how small, can be the difference between standing on the beach and riding the wave. Diversity is crucial to making those decisions count.

If we don’t tackle the prejudices that are inherent to our past (and thus the data we feed algorithms) then our history will only be replicated in the future and any progress we have made will be erased. Our brains are wired in a certain way, the result of our upbringing, trials and successes. However hard we try, it is impossible for us to rewire those networks completely. But we can rewire the networks in our companies. We can welcome greater diversity, embrace different backgrounds, embody our varied trials, failures and successes. We can use information that is the product of diverse data sets. We can build sustainable and flexible ecosystems that help us respond to the needs and wants of society as a whole. We can make diversity a core tenet of our companies.

Find the passionately curious and empower the people in your company to question the patterns and the status quo. Recruit to become multicultural. The more diverse your organisation, the more curious your company will become by definition. Seek out open-minded people who want to explore, transform and activate.

Diversity is vital to helping us ride the wave into the new tomorrow.

Rik Vera
Rik Vera
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June 7, 2022