At this week’s GDST Summit CEO, Cheryl Giovannoni, opened with a powerful and inspiring speech about the new frontiers that our girls will storm and what we can do to equip them to change the world and create a better future. I was particularly interested in what she had to say about the landscape for women in technology:

‘We are living through a seismic technology revolution, and it’s not yet clear what impact that will have on the lives the pupils currently in our schools will lead, and the careers they will be engaged in. Sir Anthony Seldon has written about how “algorithms and artificial intelligence are outperforming humans on most aspects of logical and linguistic intelligence”, and that “the skills around which we have designed our schools … will be rendered redundant within the next 20 years.”

I, for one, am far more optimistic than Sir Anthony that our schools will embrace technology like AI to help us develop truly bespoke learning as we prepare pupils for the future world of work. We have to work on the basis that AI is augmenting, supplementing and enhancing what humans are doing – not replacing it. It does not bring empathy, nor make judgements. Sterility will never replace creativity.

Now, let me ask you a question: does the fact that AI assistants like Alexa, Siri and Cortana adopt female personas reinforce gender stereotypes of female subservience? Especially when they make their way out of our homes and into our offices and workspaces? As robots and AI learn from humans and extrapolate from current data, there’s a good chance they’ll also adopt the biases – gender, racial and socio-economic – that exist in society. The real danger is that, as AI is being developed, we run the risk of a lack of diversity on many fronts. And the more we come to rely on AI, the more we’ll be affected by these biases, to the potential detriment of many groups, but women in particular, I would bet. The debate around AI is not really a debate about technology but a debate about where power resides. Those with power are predominantly large corporations, primarily concerned with making profit, and currently run by white men.

Regulation has not kept pace – so there’s a risk of harm being caused not through malicious intent but simply by ‘not being very thoughtful’. The ethical side of AI is too often forgotten with the pace at which change is happening. It should go without saying that the greater the diversity of voices, the more chance we have of challenging stereotypes and unthinking approaches. So, it’s important that more women are engaged in designing the future through technology. It’s a job we cannot leave to men alone. When only 17 percent of tech professionals are women, we have a problem. But it’s not just the job of the few women working in the sector to programme AI to overcome gender bias. It’s the job of all the people currently developing these new technologies – who, let’s face it, at this point are mostly men – it’s their job to be aware of the potential for bias and ensure they factor it in when writing the programmes and the protocols. I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg would not want his daughter to grow up in a world with no female input into the technology that is shaping it. Nor do I imagine he would be happy believing she hadn’t the best possible chance of being the next Mark Zuckerberg herself. Or being subjected to the gender pay gap that currently exists at her father’s company. In short, if our future is one where the world is run by our robot overlords, let’s at least make sure there are equal numbers of robot overladies.’