Country Manager in technology business: “Distortions can be rectified to make artificial intelligence more equitable”

According to Heli Laitila, Country Manager of the international technology company IBM Systems, the gender-based distortions that have been identified in applications using artificial intelligence must be rectified. Laitila stresses that more women and girls should be attracted to the still male-dominated technology sector.

Generation Equality is a global campaign involving states, UN organisations, businesses and representatives of the civil society to promote gender equality, including the rights of women and girls. In Finland the activities are coordinated by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Country Manager of the international technology company IBM Systems Heli Laitila Photograph: Vilja Pursiainen

Heli Laitila participates in the Generation Equality Advisory Board that is also coordinated by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

“In IBM, we have developed and utilised artificial intelligence. While doing this, we have noticed that there are distortions related to gender equality in the models created by artificial intelligence. We have explored how these could be changed and the distortions rectified,” Laitila says about the equality work in the company.

Artificial intelligence uses data that reflects the world as it is today, including the existing inequalities. For example, part-time work is more common among women. Because of this, artificial intelligence may conclude that men are better employees and they should be recommended for full-time employment.

Technology is developed by people and reflects its makers, which is why different kinds of people – including women and girls – are also needed as developers.

“IBM in Finland has made a detailed plan on ways to promote equality in the technology sector and to attract more girls and women to study technology,” Laitila says.

How big data can reinforce biases?

Finland’s side event organised in connection with the session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67) on 8 March discussed how big data that has been collected can be distorted from the perspective of equality and what could be done to rectify the situation.

The development of governance in modern societies is based on the utilisation of big data. If the data that has been collected is not representative of the entire population, e.g. healthcare services may be developed in a way that does not take issues particular to women’s health into account.

The topics discussed at the side event organised by the Government of Finland, Government of Chile, A+ Alliance and UN Women include how gender equality can be taken into account in the design of technological platforms and software to ensure that artificial intelligence does not reinforce the existing gendered biases.