English edition • Worldcrunch


PARIS — They're called Amelia, Nina or Lola. They are as servile as they are receptive.

Female robots are usually made to play subordinate roles: from the welcoming secretary to the amusing girlfriend through to the perfectly submissive sex doll. But the relationship between robotics and women, and more broadly between artificial intelligence and women, raises fundamental questions about the future structure of society.

With AI and Big Data, we try to model behaviors in order to predict them. Used in chatbots on the Internet or embedded in robots to perceive, decide and act, these models often present biases, linked to the choice of data by the engineer. If robots learn on their own from the data they collect unattended, these biases will reflect those of our society.

The roles of women is a prime example of bias. They appear less often than men in movies, in media and academic congresses, and account for far fewer of the world's corporate executives. The shortage of women in information technology and robotics is a particularly sensitive subject: The majority of professionals working for U.S. high-tech giants are white — and male.

If those who teach computers to act like humans are men, robots will reflect men's world view.

Ileana Stigliani, an assistant professor at Imperial College London, says the clear lack of diversity in the AI and IT industries reinforces gender stereotypes. If those who teach computers to act like human beings are all men, then it is very likely that robots and "sex machines' will reflect men's world view.

A market for sex robots, soon able to react and speak, already exists in Japan and is sure to spread everywhere. A group of British scientists launched a campaign in 2015 against the development of these robots, saying they reinforce a false representation of women and encourage prostitution. The magazine H+, in its April-May 2016 edition, recounts the futuristic vision of two New Zealand researchers who forecast that by 2050, Amsterdam's red-light district will be a business of robotized prostitutes, free of sexually transmitted diseases.

These sexual robots will grow increasingly sophisticated. As they improve, will we continue to have sex with humans? Will sleeping with a robot count as cheating? And finally, couldn't falling in love with a machine, which has no desire or feelings of its own, lead to an emotional deficiency?

We must urgently address these core societal questions, and face the risks they pose. But there is also a great potential in AI and robotics, but our approach must be driven by human wisdom and the rules of ethics.

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