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Gender and AI

The ‘Gender and AI’ research stream develops feminist and queer approaches to AI that are informed by critical race theory, postcolonial/decolonial theory, Asian American/Asian diaspora studies, crip theory, and areas of justice-oriented knowledge and work.

While this project stream includes critical approaches to the state of women’s representation in the AI industry, it goes beyond ‘doing a head count’ to examine how gender as a set of relations shapes AI.

In this project stream, we ask: how does AI reanimate or exacerbate sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, colonialism, and other forms of discrimination and harm? How does AI codify or reinvent gendered and racialised taxonomies and categories? How does gender and sexism shape and define what ‘counts’ as AI, the parameters of AI’s use, and the kinds of technological futures we imagine? Can AI be directed towards more feminist futures, or is feminist AI an impossible project? What kinds of feminist knowledge and practices have been erased from the history of AI and intelligent machines? How are feminists hacking, adapting, or remaking technologies like AI to suit their own ends? How can technologies like AI galvanise or transform our understanding of feminism, or even gender itself?

Some previous and ongoing projects undertaken by the Gender and AI research stream include: 

Stephen Cave, Kanta Dihal, Eleanor Drage, and Kerry McInerney’s study of how AI scientists are represented in popular films from 1920-2020. They found that only 9 out of 116 AI professionals on screen were women, and that no major AI film was directed solely by a woman. The paper was published in Public Understanding of Science, and a short report can be accessed on the CFI website. This paper received extensive media coverage from the Guardian, the BBC and the Telegraph, among others.

Eleanor Drage and Kerry McInerney’s paper on AI-powered recruitment tools, ‘Does AI De-Bias Recruitment? Race, Gender and AI’s “Eradication of Difference Between Groups’”’. The paper is available in the journal, Philosophy and Technology.

As a part of her wider work on AI-powered recruitment software, Drage worked with a group of final-year computer science students to create a tool that demonstrates the fallacious logic behind video AI recruitment tools that claim to be able to deduce a candidate’s personality from their face. Try out the interactive tool. This paper received extensive media coverage from the BBC and Forbes, among others.

Jude Browne, Stephen Cave, Eleanor Drage and Kerry McInerney’s volume Feminist AI: Critical Perspectives on Algorithms, Data and Intelligent Machines (OUP 2023). This book is the first multidisciplinary volume on feminist approaches to AI and brings together leading voices in the field to explore different feminist approaches to AI and AI ethics. The book includes a chapter from Stephen Cave, Kanta Dihal, Eleanor Drage and Kerry McInerney on representations of AI scientists in popular films; a chapter from Apolline Taillandier on the history of the feminist programming language Logo; a chapter by Kerry McInerney on a feminist abolitionist approach to predictive policing tools; and a chapter by Eleanor Drage and Federica Frabetti on AI and performativity. 

With Dr Federica Frabetti, Eleanor Drage has been applying Karen Barad and Judith Butler's concepts of performativity to critical issues in AI, from racist policing software to biometric technologies used in Germany to validate migration claims. Their research demonstrated that when Dataminr, a real-time analytics platform, is deployed by law enforcement, it is more likely to flag a group of Brown and Black people as a potentially dangerous protest (read the paper in Science, Technology and Human Values). Their research into biometrics research on facial recognition and biometrics used by border control in the UK and Germany is forthcoming at Critical Cultural and Communication Studies (CCCS). Their investigative work also formed the basis of an article by the Byline Times on the UK government’s purchase and use of Dataminr’s protest recognition software.

As a part of this advocacy work, Eleanor Drage and Dorian Peters also work with The Citizens, a not-for-profit journalism organisation founded by Pulitzer-nominated journalist Carole Cadwalladr in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal. This includes creating and producing TikTok videos for The Citizens social media channels about technology and policing, AI hiring tools, hate speech detection on social media, and other digital rights issues.

Eleanor Drage’s monograph The Planetary Humanism of European Women’s Science Fiction: An Experience of the Impossible (Routledge 2023), argues that utopian science fiction written by European women has, since the seventeenth century, played an important role in exploring the racial and gender possibilities of the outer limits of the humanist imagination. 

Drage and McInerney’s podcast, The Good Robot, asks: what is good technology? Is it even possible? And how can feminism help us work towards it? As the creators and producers of the podcast, Drage and McInerney have interviewed a wide range of leading feminist thinkers, activists and technologies about the possibilities for feminist technology. Access the podcast on AppleSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Image credit: Sinjin Li, from the cover of The Good Robot 

AI and Gender - Four Proposals for Future Research

The Technology, Gender and Intersectionality Research Project, generously funded by Christina Gaw

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