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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Meta’s new AI council is composed entirely of white men

Meta’s announcement on Wednesday about the creation of an AI advisory council was met with an audible groan across the internet. The reason? The council is composed entirely of white men. Shocking, right? Women and people of color have been shouting into the void for decades about their exclusion from the tech world, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI), despite being more than qualified and significantly contributing to the field’s evolution.

Meta’s Silent Treatment

Meta did not immediately respond to requests for comments regarding the diversity—or glaring lack thereof—on their new advisory board. Their silence on this matter is as deafening as the lack of representation itself.

Comparing Boards: A Study in Contrasts

This new AI advisory council stands in stark contrast to Meta’s actual board of directors and its Oversight Board, which boast a more diverse representation in terms of gender and race. Unlike these boards, the AI advisory council was not elected by shareholders and bears no fiduciary responsibilities. Meta informed Bloomberg that this council would offer “insights and recommendations on technological advancements, innovation, and strategic growth opportunities,” meeting only “periodically.” Translation: They’ll occasionally gather to discuss grand ideas over expensive coffee.

The Business Overload

It’s telling that the council is composed entirely of businesspeople and entrepreneurs, not ethicists or academic researchers. Sure, executives from Stripe, Shopify, and Microsoft have a lot of products under their belts, but AI isn’t just another gadget to market. It’s a high-stakes game with potential consequences that can disproportionately affect marginalized groups. Ignoring this fact is like playing with matches in a fireworks factory.

Expert Opinions: The Need for Critical Examination

Sarah Myers West, managing director at the AI Now Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to studying AI’s social implications, emphasized the importance of scrutinizing AI institutions to ensure they serve the public good. “This is error-prone technology,” she said, “and those errors disproportionately harm communities that have long borne the brunt of discrimination. We should be setting a much, much higher bar.”

The Dark Side of AI: Women Bear the Brunt

Women are often the first to feel the adverse effects of AI. In 2019, Sensity AI found that 96% of AI deepfake videos online were nonconsensual, sexually explicit content. The prevalence of generative AI has only increased, and women continue to be the primary targets of this violative behavior.

Take, for instance, the high-profile incident from January, when nonconsensual, pornographic deepfakes of Taylor Swift went viral on X (formerly Twitter). One post amassed hundreds of thousands of likes and 45 million views before the platform took action by banning search terms like “taylor swift ai” and “taylor swift deepfake.” But let’s be real—if you’re not a global pop sensation, you’re likely out of luck. Middle and high school students are reportedly making explicit deepfakes of their classmates, and apps designed to “undress” photos of women are disturbingly easy to find and use.

Meta’s Advertising Mishaps

Facebook and Instagram, both under Meta, have also been caught hosting ads for an app called Perky AI, which promised to create explicit images. These ads included blurred photos of celebrities like Sabrina Carpenter and Jenna Ortega, enticing users to use the app to “remove their clothes.” Shockingly, one image of Ortega was from when she was just 16 years old. Meta only took action after NBC’s Kat Tenbarge reported the issue.

The Broader Impact of Exclusion

It is crucial for women and people of color to be included in AI development. Historically, excluding these groups from critical fields has led to disastrous outcomes. For example, until the 1970s, women were largely excluded from clinical trials, resulting in medical research that didn’t account for how treatments would affect them. Similarly, technology developed without considering Black people can be dangerously flawed—self-driving cars, for instance, are reportedly more likely to hit Black pedestrians due to issues with sensor recognition, as a 2019 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed.

Algorithmic Bias: A Persistent Problem

Algorithms trained on biased data perpetuate and amplify discrimination. AI systems have been shown to exhibit racial bias in employment, housing, and criminal justice. Voice assistants often struggle to understand diverse accents, and facial recognition technology is notoriously less accurate for Black individuals, leading to a higher rate of false matches for criminal suspects.

Reinforcing Existing Power Structures

The development of AI reflects existing societal power structures related to class, race, gender, and Eurocentrism. Instead of addressing these issues, many tech leaders are reinforcing them. The focus on rapid innovation and disruption often overlooks the deeper societal implications of AI technologies.

The Employment Impact

Generative AI, the latest tech craze, could exacerbate existing inequalities. According to a McKinsey report, AI could automate roughly half of all jobs that don’t require a four-year degree and pay over $42,000 annually. These are jobs in which minority workers are overrepresented, leading to significant economic and social repercussions.

The Risks of Homogeneity

There is legitimate concern about how an all-white, all-male council at one of the world’s leading tech companies can effectively advise on AI products meant for a diverse global population. Building inclusive and safe AI requires a nuanced understanding of intersectional societal impacts, something this advisory board seems ill-equipped to provide.

Conclusion: A Call for Better Representation

Meta’s all-white, all-male AI advisory council is a glaring misstep in the ongoing push for diversity and inclusion in tech. It underscores the need for broader representation and the integration of diverse perspectives in AI development. The stakes are high, and getting AI right is crucial for ensuring it serves all of humanity, not just a privileged few.

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