Gender bias in AI, gaming? Dubai tech advocate points to urgent need for diversity

Behind our computer screen, there lies a stark reality that prevails over algorithms and technology — the wide gender gap. Dubai-based AI and gaming innovator Lucy Chow delves into the depths of the looming issue in the gaming world

By Areeba Hashmi

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Published: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 6:11 PM

Last updated: Sat 9 Dec 2023, 9:44 AM

Change starts at the top. Women aren’t especially well-represented in gaming and tech/AI leadership roles. Only 16 per cent of women hold senior positions in the global gaming industry. Lucy Chow, Strategic Adviser, 2022 Female Angels Ambassador, Women in Games, LinkedIn Top Voice, and Innovator in AI and Gaming, offers insights into the unequal norms that exist in AI and gaming space, and looks at ways to smoothen out the disparity and biases in the male-dominated industry and make it a level-playing field. The narrative hints at a future where diversity isn’t just a goal but an integral part of the AI and gaming landscape. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What causes gender disparities in AI development and the gaming industry, and how can we address them?

In male-dominated industries like gaming and tech/AI, biases persist due to a lack of diverse perspectives. Leadership roles in gaming are disproportionately held by men, with only 16 per cent of women in senior positions globally. To combat this, promoting women in these sectors is crucial for a more comprehensive dataset. Recognising and addressing biases is essential as we navigate evolving algorithms. Improving educational opportunities is key, with initiatives like Code Coven and Limit Break supporting women in gaining industry skills and mentorship. In AI, vigilance is needed to prevent sexist or racist biases. Rigorous data collection and validation processes are essential to ensure fairness in AI-generated content, character abilities, and gameplay mechanics.

Lucy Chow
Lucy Chow

AI systems often exhibit gender biases. How can developers work towards creating more unbiased algorithms, and what role does diversity play in this process?

Deloitte’s report, The State of Women in AI Today, highlights a persistent gender and diversity gap in the AI industry. Increasing diversity, especially in decision-making and developer roles, mitigates biases. Organisations like Women for Games and Women in AI advocate for diversity in the gaming sector. The solution involves diversifying the workforce and addressing pipeline issues by encouraging more women to enter STEM fields. Developers should avoid skewed training datasets and conscious biases in labelling for supervised machine learning. Biases introduced by features and modelling techniques must also be scrutinised. Achieving gender diversity in AI and machine learning brings unique perspectives, but ongoing efforts are essential for women to flourish in these roles.

Can you share your background and what led you to AI and gaming?

My journey into AI and gaming began when my son expressed interest in becoming a streamer. Every child goes through a phase where they want to be a streamer or a gamer. Despite stereotypes, gaming offers unique benefits, seen in fields like surgery and aviation, where professionals use simulation games for practice. As leaders in the industry, staying informed about technological advancements is crucial, and I actively seek insights into potential game-changers. I serve on the Board of the American School of Dubai and emphasise the importance of cutting-edge education. My book Changing the Game has a dedicated section on gaming, recognising its growing role in education through gamification, ensuring kids stay engaged in evolving teaching methods.

How have you navigated the gender gap challenges in investing, entrepreneurship, advocacy, and media?

Coming from a male-dominated banking background, breaking through was crucial. Raise your hand and know that you do own a seat at the table. Overcoming imposter syndrome is an ongoing battle. In the tech realm, companies are investing heavily in AI and are conscious of customer sensitivities. The younger generation’s awareness will hold companies accountable for diversity and inclusivity, forcing initiatives to ensure unbiased datasets. I’m part of the World Business Angels Investment Forum, which focuses on promoting female entrepreneurs, including media amplification. Initiatives like Bloomberg’s New Voices aim to bring more women to the forefront as subject matter experts. Self-nomination and proactive visibility are vital in shaping a more inclusive narrative.

What inspired your advocacy for gender equality, particularly in gaming and tech? Are there any influential role models in your journey?

Being in business, staying abreast of technology is essential. My initial angel investments were in tech startups, recognising that every company is now a tech company. Inspiration comes from the 38 authors in my book, each found on LinkedIn or known for their work. Their diverse successes reflect the richness of the industry. For instance, Genie Doi, an immigration lawyer and Legal Unicorn, leveraged her digital native status to offer a modern immigration experience, becoming a go-to for the esports community.

humans and robots, AI, artificial intelligence
humans and robots, AI, artificial intelligence

With initiatives like MullenLowe’s ‘Fixing the biAIs!’ addressing AI gender inclusivity, will progress be slow given the newness of AI and persistent gender disparities? How can we find hope in these efforts amid challenges like the wage gap? Or is a world without gender disparities impossible?

This poses a philosophical question — optimism or pessimism? MullenLowe employs AI-generated images to combat gender bias in AI, fostering a more inclusive job market. As businesses are increasingly investing in AI and big data, tackling the gender data gap becomes crucial. Addressing this requires conscious efforts from data and tech teams, refining data collection practices and designing data for equitable outcomes. As a pragmatic capitalist, I recognise businesses’ eagerness to integrate AI into operations. However, investing in misguided algorithms risks poor decision-making, with prevalent unconscious biases in technologies. Substantial action is needed, with women comprising less than 22 per cent (KPMG’s 2021 CEO Outlook) of the AI workforce and holding fewer decision-making roles. Regulation, like the EU’s call for clearer directives, aims to ensure fairness throughout the AI value chain. Organisations must proactively embrace inclusive data practices to stay ahead in this evolving landscape.

Tell us something about how neurodivergent women can excel in gaming.

I had the privilege of meeting an incredible woman in the electronic arts field who, despite numerous challenges as a neurodiverse individual, showcased her workplace — a testament to finding the right employer. In gaming, an FDA-approved game named ‘EndeavorRx’ stands out, aiding children with ADHD aged 8-12. This innovative approach, shaped as a mobile game, underscores the power of diversity in the workforce, giving rise to groundbreaking projects. Indeed, diversity serves as the key to fostering innovation.

How do we address the challenges faced by female gamers in your book Changing the Game?

Brimming with entertainment and excitement, esports is witnessing an influx of women across various roles, including players and streamers. However, the industry still needs more diversity, with women comprising less than 1 per cent of professional players and roughly 5 per cent of the workforce. Drawing parallels with issues prevalent in the corporate world, such as gender discrimination, bullying, and harassment, my book strives to shed light on these challenges. Through the inspiring journey of Madiha Naz, the first Pakistani woman esports player and captain of the inaugural all-female Middle Eastern esports team, the narrative emphasises the transformative power of gaming. Advocating for increased female leadership in the gaming industry, the book proposes a shift towards more inclusive and attractive workplaces, recognising them as the future standard. The goal is to break away from outdated workplace norms and embrace a culture that fosters diversity and inclusion.

Going forward, how do you plan to engage further in bringing gender inclusivity in AI and Gaming?

Engaging in diverse activities, I actively promote gender inclusivity in AI and gaming. Initiatives include Annual Festivals, Awards, Career Events, and special projects like “It’s Showtime!” This project serves as a platform to showcase the creative contributions of talented women worldwide, focusing on art, design, sound, and creative coding.

In my commitment to fostering gender inclusivity, I ensured that my book featured a substantial representation of women as contributing authors. A dedicated section titled Women in Games highlights the achievements and perspectives of women in the gaming industry. The recognition in the second edition of “Top 100 Women of The Future” further underscores the commitment to acknowledging and celebrating the remarkable contributions of women in frontier technologies. Inspired by initiatives like “Top 100 Women of The Future”, I am considering collaborations to create additional editions of this book in various cities globally, extending the spotlight on women’s achievements in frontier technologies, including the UAE/Mena region. The objective is to amplify the visibility of women’s accomplishments and inspire further action towards gender inclusivity in these evolving industries.

What changes do you envision for the AI and gaming industries to become more inclusive and diverse in the coming years? Which aspects of this transformation would you consider most important and why?

For today’s 1.8 billion global youth who are between the ages of 15 and 29, this period is significantly shaping their roles as the future workforce. In envisioning the future of the AI and gaming industries, the transformation towards inclusivity and diversity is pivotal for the 1.8 billion global youth shaping the workforce. The rapid evolution of technology, including automation, digitalisation, AI and robotics, necessitates a paradigm shift in how work is approached. Embracing technology, particularly in digital education, has become imperative for both men and women, transcending optional status to essential skill acquisition.

As AI reshapes the labour market, creating new skill demands, fostering inclusivity becomes critical. Surveys by Women in AI reveal that the gender gap is driven by the emergent nature of the AI field, with respondents highlighting challenges in defining roles, career paths, team-building, and ongoing education. Despite these obstacles, the attention from industry leaders brings hope, influencing recruitment practices and increasing visibility for women researchers. Addressing the lack of female mentors and leaders is vital, necessitating a transparent incentive structure to enhance female talent in leadership roles and promote diversity. This collective effort aims to empower the next generation of problem-solvers in a more inclusive and supportive STEM environment.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com

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