In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Deborah Harrison, a senior manager at Microsoft and leader of the Cortana development team, described the makeup of her team as containing: a playwright, a poet, a comic-book author, a philosophy major, and a songwriter, among other roles not typically found in software development.
But these individuals didn’t end up at the company because they weren’t successful in their day jobs. Rather, they were specifically recruited for their backgrounds with the hope that a more diverse development team will engender the development of less biased artificial intelligence (AI).
This is a well-recognized problem in the industry. According to the article, “Flawed algorithms can cause freakish accidents, usually because they’ve been tested or trained on flawed or incomplete databases.” Amazon’s scrapped AI screening program — which rejected resumes containing the word “women’s” — is a prominent example of these freakish accidents, but it’s far from the only one.
To address this, it’s critical that the individuals writing the code behind AI applications are as unbiased as possible. One of the best ways of accomplishing this is recruiting and hiring candidates of different races, genders, sexual identities, and backgrounds. Douglas Merrill, a former Google CIO, told the Wall Street Journal, “The biases that are implicit in one team member are clear to, and avoided by, another. So it’s really key to get people who aren’t alike.”
Everyone can get behind how important it is to create unbiased algorithms. But a secondary benefit of this approach to AI development is that it addresses the longstanding tech diversity problem. With AI only poised to grow more prevalent in our personal and professional lives, we can expect that ensuring the development of unbiased applications will become a chief priority.
So, does it follow that we can also expect to see a more demographically diverse workforce?
It remains to be seen, but the anecdotes shared by Deborah Harrison and the other execs interviewed in the Wall Street Journal article certainly suggest that things are heading in the right direction.