The tech sector’s gender imbalance is nothing new, so it will come as no surprise that in 2017, out of the 2.1 million employees working in the UK’s technology sector, only 17 percent were women.
This imbalance was something I was blissfully unaware of throughout my high school education but became glaringly obvious when I hit university and the job market.
Sadly, the picture for artificial intelligence is no better. We all interact with artificial intelligence on a daily basis, and it is likely that soon most aspects of our lives will be transformed by it, yet it is being developed by a small, unrepresentative demographic.
A report by WIRED and Element AI estimated that globally only 12 percent of leading machine learning researchers were women, and although there is little demographic data on those working in technical AI roles, estimates suggest women account for only 10 to 15 percent.
The need for diversity in AI
Addressing diversity in business and innovation would bring huge economic and societal benefits. But the need for diversity in AI is non-negotiable.
Bias and inequality have always existed in our society, but AI technologies could reinforce prejudice at scale. Amazon’s decision to scrap their AI recruiting tool as it showed bias against women is just one of many examples where AI tools could be detrimental to women and minority groups.
Increased representation in the workforce would better equip companies to foresee and counteract learned biases.
In 2016, Innovate UK ran our first Women in Innovation campaign, launched exclusively for women to address under representation in the innovation sector. The campaign showed that when you provide diverse role models, perceptions and behaviours change – for us that change was to increase the number of women engaging with our programmes from 14 percent to 24 percent.
Due to the success of the first awards, over this summer we ran our second Women in Innovation competition. We received over 250 applications across all innovation areas and these are currently being assessed.
It was reassuring to see a significant number of applications from women innovating with artificial intelligence and data; a buzzing community of innovators here in the UK who can begin to help AI tackle its diversity problem.
Given the number of AI applications, we are organising a fully-funded global business innovation programme with Israel to showcase women innovators in AI & data, which includes a visit to Israel in March 2019. The programme will also consist of a preparation phase in the UK and subsequent follow-up support.
The Israeli innovation and start-up ecosystem is known worldwide for its vibrancy. And, like in the UK, the AI landscape in Israel is thriving. The ecosystem has raised more than $7.5 billion cumulatively and is undergoing considerable growth; it is estimated there are now more than 950 active Israeli AI start-ups utilising or developing AI technologies. Over 300 multinationals, including Facebook and Amazon, are actively taking part in the Israeli innovation scene by setting up R&D labs in the country.
The UK government has also signed an agreement to strengthen links between the UK and Israel and a £4 million pound joint R&D call is currently open.
Key dates and how to apply
The chance to join us on this programme will be via a competitive process. More information on the programme, how to apply and the eligibility criteria can be found here.
- Applications close - 7th January 2019
- Applicants notified of outcome – Friday 18th January
- Pre-visit briefing event – February 2019 (exact date TBC)
- Fly to Israel – 2nd March 2019
- Visit to Israel – 3rd-7th March 2019
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