True equality in service usability and AI decision-making
Digital systems development calls for diversity and listening to customers.
What better time than the eve of International Women’s Day to consider how equality can be achieved in digital service development. With diversity now an established part of businesses, the focus of discussions has turned to ways of making systems as equal as possible. Services are expected to meet the needs of different users, and the algorithms used in automated decision-making must be prevented from discriminating against anyone.
During my career, I have witnessed huge changes in technology and our ways of working. The IT sector I entered fifteen years ago was an isolated, inward-looking world of its own, with a very homogeneous workforce. These days, it is characterized by a much more open attitude towards diversity, gender and people from different backgrounds.
This is an important and welcome change. Studies indicate that equality and diversity put companies in a better position to innovate and provide services that meet the needs of a variety of users.
The equality of algorithms and artificial intelligence raises concerns
Cloud services, artificial intelligence and algorithms have taken on an increasing role in the daily activities of companies and individuals. This has also boosted concerns about systems possibly discriminating against or favoring certain groups of people. Services are developed and algorithms devised by people whose own background may influence the way in which systems work. Systems and services can be made more equal if the companies creating and developing them are diverse and pay serious attention to potential biases.
Algorithms are based on data, and any bias in data will have a bearing on the decisions that the system makes. There are numerous examples of algorithm-based discrimination: Microsoft’s Tay, an artificial intelligence chatbot, quickly adopted racist and misogynist speech on Twitter and Google’s ad delivery software showed women ads for lower paying jobs than men.
The European Commission has also expressed concern over biases of artificial intelligence and algorithms. In February, the Commission announced the EU’s new data and AI strategy, which calls for measures to ensure equality in automated decision-making and data handling. “I want digital Europe to reflect the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the Commission, at the unveiling of the strategy.
Customers’ voices boost diversity
The call for equality does not target only artificial intelligence and algorithms, but all kinds of digital services. Service development and user experience design should involve people from diverse backgrounds to mirror that of service users.
Customers also play an important role in the creation of equal services. The attention given to customers’ voices is one of the most significant changes that has taken place in the IT sector during my career. At Cloudia, we make sure to closely involve customers in the development of digital services. After all, we do not make systems for ourselves but for our customers.
In honour of International Women’s Day, I am pleased to note that Finland ranks fourth highest in the world when it comes to equality in the workplace. I believe we have every opportunity to also be a frontrunner in the development of equal digital services.
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