How cinema promotes AI as product of lone male geniuses


London, Feb 13

Artificial intelligence (AI) is suffering from severe gender imbalance, risking development of discriminatory technology and cinema promotes it as the product of lone male geniuses with God-like complexes, researchers have revealed.

The study by University of Cambridge found that just 8 per cent of all depictions of AI professionals from a century of film are women -- and half of these are shown as subordinate to men.

Researchers said that such cultural tropes and a lack of female representation affects career aspirations and sector recruitment.

Without enough women building AI, there is a high risk of gender bias seeping into the algorithms set to define the future, they said in a paper published in the journal Public Understanding of Science.

The team whittled down over 1,400 films to the 142 most influential cinematic works featuring AI between 1920 and 2020, and identified 116 characters they classed as "AI professionals".

Of these, 92 per cent of all AI scientists and engineers on screen were men, with representations of women consisting of a total of eight scientists and one CEO.

This is higher than the percentage of men in the current AI workforce (78 per cent).

Researchers argue that films such as "Iron Man" and "Ex Machina" promote cultural perceptions of AI as the product of lone male geniuses.

Of the meagre eight female AI scientists to come out of 100 years of cinema, four were still depicted as inferior or subservient to men.

The first major film to put a female AI creator on screen did not come until the 1997 comedy "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery", with the over-the-top Frau Farbissina and her 'Fembots'.

"Gender inequality in the AI industry is systemic and pervasive. Mainstream films are an enormously influential source and amplifier of the cultural stereotypes that help dictate who is suited to a career in AI," said co-author Dr Kanta Dihal from University's Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (LCFI).

"Our cinematic stock-take shows that women are grossly underrepresented as AI scientists on screen. We need to be careful that these cultural stereotypes do not become a self-fulfilling prophecy as we enter the age of artificial intelligence," she added.

The researchers found that a third (37 individuals) of cinema's AI scientists are presented as "geniuses" -- and of these, just one is a woman.

In fact, 14 per cent of all AI professionals on film are portrayed as former child prodigies of some kind.

Some 22 per cent of the male AI scientists or engineers throughout cinematic history create human-like AI to "fulfil their desires" -- replacing lost loved ones, building ideal lovers, or creating AI copies of themselves.

"Cinema has long used narratives of artificial intelligence to perpetuate male fantasies, whether it's the womb envy of a lone genius creating in his own image, or the God complex of returning the dead to life or constructing obedient women," said LCFI co-author Dr Kerry McInerney.


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