2 апр. 2024 г.

Inclusive futures: How technology is shifting from bias to empowerment

  • Connect and support people
  • Our technology has come a long way. However, there is still lots of work to do. Rather than being neutral, it often still reinforces the usual biases and stereotypes of the real world.

    Much of this comes down to representation. As our own Faith Wheller wrote recently, most of our technology is still made by a small segment of the population — by and large, white men living in the Global North. As a result, it tends to be designed for people that look, think, and feel much the same as they do.   
    Here, we’re going to consider some examples of how technology reproduces the biases of our everyday life, before turning to some incredible ways that it’s being used to truly work for everyone.

    Some examples of how technology reproduces biases 

    1. AI-generated images 

    While still a new technology, AI image generators have been shown to reproduce stereotypes along with racist and misogynistic biases. Testing one such generator, the The Washington Post found that the prompt ‘a person at social services’ generated images of solely non-white people. By contrast, only white people were shown with ‘a productive person.’ We can only hope that the algorithms guiding these AI grow more sophisticated in time.  

    2. Office heating 

    Ever noticed your male colleagues walking around the office in T-shirts while your female colleagues shiver in wooly cardigans? Well, not so long ago a study found that the average metabolic rate of women performing light office work is significantly lower than that of men doing the same work.  
    In effect, this means women are working in offices that are perfect for men, but on average five degrees too cold for them. Which, in very real terms, means offices are a bit more uncomfortable for women all over the world.   

    3. Voice recognition software

    Here, too, our technology has a long way to go. A Stanford study found that the five main voice recognition tools made about twice as many errors for Black speakers than for white speakers. Not only this, but they also have a long history of gender bias, more readily understanding male voices than female. 

    4. Crash test dummies

    Cars are designed to fit male bodies, and even now, female crash test dummies — if they are used at all — are little more than scaled-down men. Little surprise, then, that when women are in a car crash, they are 47% more likely to be seriously injured — and 17% likelier to die — than men. 

    5. Fitness monitors 

    If you are someone who often walks pushing a pram, you might have noticed that your Fitbit underestimates your step count. And you’re not alone in this — many users report that the device fails to account for this kind of movement. Another study found that common fitness monitors grossly underestimated the step counts and calories burned during domestic work. All of which leads to a devaluing of typically female work.

    Some brilliant examples of inclusive design

    Here at TeamViewer, we see technology as a force for good, with the capacity to make life better for all kinds of people, everywhere. We are committed to inclusive and accessible technology that fights against inequalities. Here are some trailblazing examples doing just that.    

    1. SheBoard 

    The language that we use plays a big role in reinforcing or countering gender bias. We often describe women as ‘nice’ and ‘compassionate,’ for example, while men are much more likely to be described in terms of their intelligence or ambition.  
    Made in collaboration with Samsung, the predictive text app SheBoard sets out to affect change in language itself. It does this by suggesting gender-neutral language and diverse words, empowering girls and women and prompting all of us to consider our role in reproducing bias.   

    2. Microsoft Adaptive Accessories

    Launched in 2022, Microsoft's Adaptive Accessories — including a customizable mouse, programmable buttons, and a connecting hub — aim to truly make technology work for everyone. Designed for individuals living with disabilities, the devices can be tailored to the person’s unique needs, making them easier to use, either for work, education, or leisure.  

    3. Duolingo counters bias in all languages

    Duolingo is well known for its fun and memorable branding. And deservedly so! But the app also makes sure that inclusivity is at the heart of its product. Featuring diverse characters and conversation topics, with Duolingo learning truly is for everyone.  

    4. Google Lookout app

    While we are only really getting started with augmented reality (AR), its possibilities for accessibility are enormous. One app tapping into this potential is Google's Lookout. This uses AR to help people who are blind or have low vision interact with their surroundings. With it, they can use smartphones to navigate their environment, assisted by auditory feedback. 

    5. Women’s period-friendly football kits

    England’s Lewes FC introduced the world's first period-friendly football kits in 2021. Now a feature of women’s clubs worldwide — including our partner Manchester United — these enhance comfort and reduce stigma for female athletes during menstruation and mark a significant step in inclusive sports-apparel design.


    As we can see, technology often mirrors the biases and stereotypes of society. This is mostly because it's usually designed by a narrow segment of the population. AI image generators have replicated racist and misogynistic biases, office heating systems cater more to men's comfort, and voice recognition software struggles with diversity in speech. These examples show technology's failure to serve everyone equally. 
    However, as tech optimists we can also see huge strides towards inclusive design all around us. SheBoard encourages gender-neutral language, while Microsoft makes technology work for people living with disabilities. Duolingo promotes inclusivity in language learning and Google's Lookout app uses AR to help people living with visual impairments. Period-friendly football kits represent a leap forward in sports apparel. 
    Innovations like these highlight the progress being made towards a technology that truly benefits everyone. This is the direction we’re moving in. And isn’t that something to get excited about?