Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is advancing rapidly with scientists finding new ways to incorporate it into our daily lives.
AI was defined by Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein as, “a system’s ability to correctly interpret external data, to learn from such data, and to use those learnings to achieve specific goals and tasks through flexible adaptation,” in their study, Siri, Siri, in my hand: Who’s the fairest in the land? On the interpretations, illustrations, and implications of artificial intelligence.
The origins of AI can be traced back to a Dartmouth workshop, but many of the advancements of the technology has been overseen in Silicon Valley. As great as the advancement of this new form of automation is, there is on problem: because Silicon Valley itself lacks diversity, how can we expect the intuitive tool to be created without its own biases?
With some calling bais AI’s achilles heel, others are questioning if it’s even possible to create an unbiased version of this technology, no matter the circumstances.
Still others are working together, fighting to eliminate the biases that are starting to emerge in electronics interwoven with AI.
It’s hard to imagine a world without technology, and it’s pointless to imagine one where we stop inventing, exploring and advancing. On the other hand, we shouldn’t keep creating things that only benefit a subset class of people, or is at least bias towards them.
Silicon Valley has always been a tough world for women to break into, with nonstop headlines of toxic culture and boy’s club overtaking major tech companies filling our news cycles.
The term “boys’ club” in the professional setting has been around for decades, and one of the best examples in media would be Mad Men. Since the #MeToo movement took off in November of 2017, the public as a whole has started to take a harder look at how women are treated in the workforce, from Hollywood to Capital Hill. One community that still seemed to lack attention that it desperately needed was making progress of it’s own, behind the scenes.
Although the campaign began back in 2006 by Tarana Burke, several stories shared on Twitter with the hashtag “#MeToo” led to one of the biggest social movements of the century.
The #MeToo movement made waves around the world, across several different labor markets and impacted countless lives. One of the industries it had the biggest influence on was the technology community, specifically those that are headquartered in Silicon Valley.
Serious allegations hit notable companies including Google and Uber, putting their office culture, employee misconduct practices and leadership teams under the microscope. However, this wouldn’t truly be like the other #MeToo movements that brought down hailed trailblazers of the industry, like Hollywood did to Harvey Weinstein.
Powerful names like Dave McClure, Justin Caldbeck and Chris Sacca, venture capitalists, alongside tech expert Robert Scoble all felt the heat from #MeToo.
But not all is lost—some women found strength in the movement that continues to show through to this day. Thankfully, tech companies in and outside of Silicon Valley have started making the long overdue changes to their organizations.
“About once a month, on a Friday or Saturday night, the Silicon Valley Technorati gather for a drug-heavy, sex-heavy party.”
Over the past year, it’s been exposed and then further investigated that it’s not uncommon at all for the leaders in the tech community of Silicon Valley to get together often for secretive (or so they thought) drug-fueled, sex parties.
Since these parties made their splash across headlines since the news first broke in early 2018, Silicon Valley’s toxic culture and male-dominated workforce has been under serious scrutiny, by people inside and outside the community.
A female investor in the San Fransisco area told Emily Chang, author of Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club In Silicon Valley, in her Vanity Fair article, “Women are participating in this culture to improve their lives. They are an underclass in Silicon Valley.” Other allegations in the book include that many business deals are made outside of the office, usually in a bar or a private hot tub.
In a Medium article, Paul Biggar, an attendee to one of the parties that Chang depicted in her book, wrote a response denying many of the allegations she made, but did confirm that some details were correct and that the culture of Silicon Valley must be fixed. “I came to Silicon Valley to make things. And while it’s true that wherever there is money and power there are going to be people who abuse it, we need to step up and stop this shit from going on. It is never OK to abuse your power to exploit women or any underrepresented group, or to allow your power to be used by others to do so.”
For more on the prevalence of sex parties in Silicon Valley, check out the podcast, Recode Decode, as host Kara Swisher interviews Chang on “the quasi-corporate sex parties of the Bay Area” here.
It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is the starting place for almost all things technological and innovative—but it’s also the birth place for technology’s diversity issues.
Centered around the San Francisco area, “Silicon Valley” as a region and term was coined by Don Hoefler in early 1971, although the phrase didn’t gain popularity in the 1980s. The direction the area has gone towards has come out of the fact that many STEM based operations originated there, including many universities research facilities, numerous venture capitals and U.S. Department of Defense investigations. It’s also where the technology industry’s diversity issue is the most problematic.
In a report from Reveal News released in June of 2018, 10 large tech companies based in Silicon Valley did not pay a single black woman in 2016, while six others did not have a single female executive in the organization.
This issue that has persisted since last century has finally been put in the spotlight, with more and more women (and men) showing their dissatisfaction with the culture that has persisted in a place that is supposed to be one of the most forward-thinking and visionary places on Earth, currently. Emily Chang, journalist and anchor/executive producer for Bloomberg Television, has even written a book detailing the harmful sub-culture that has grown within Silicon Valley. (Great read, 5/5 stars.)
A few major companies have made steps to change their corporate behaviors—or claimed they have—but some are saying it’s still not enough. It would be a shame to see a place that’s meant to inspire and create our future fall to ruins; but having an insufferable environment where that place is being cultivated is much worse. We’ll just have to keep an eye on what’s to come and keep pushing for more change.