UNESCO issues recommendations to address gender bias in AI applications

In a recent paper produced in collaboration with Germany and the EQUALS Skills Coalition, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) outlines several recommendations for companies and governments to combat gender bias in artificial intelligence (AI) applications. Titled ‘I’d blush if I could. Closing gender divides in digital skills through education‘, the publication addresses the issue of a wider and growing digital skills gender gap. It includes recommendations to help women and girls develop strong skills through education, while also explaining the ICT gender equality paradox (countries with the highest level of gender equality also have the lowest proportion of women pursuing advanced degrees in computer science). In a distinct chapter, the publication looks at how AI voice assistants projected as young women perpetuate harmful gender bias, and offers recommendations meant to help ensure that the proliferation of digital assistants does not widen gender divides. Tech companies are encouraged to stop making digital assistants female by default, to look into developing a neutral machine gender for voice assistants, and to programme digital assistants to discourage gender-based insults and overly abusive language. Governments are advised to use public procurements and funding as a driver of gender equality in AI and establish accountability mechanisms and public oversight that can prevent or mitigate algorithmic bias and violations of rights.