Artificial intelligence is a focus in the IT business. Gender inequality in the AI industry is systemic and pervasive. And it’s even worse in films about AI, a new study from the University of Cambridge shows.
Just 8% of all depictions of AI professionals from a century of popular film are women – and more than half of these are shown as subordinate to men. This gender imbalance is even bigger than in the real-world AI industry, in which 20% of AI professionals are women, according to the report written by Stephen Cave, Kanta Dihal, Eleanor Drage, and Kerry McInerney.
“One crucial aspect relates to cultural stereotypes of who is suited to a career in AI. Mainstream films are an enormously influential source and amplifier of these cultural stereotypes.”
The report says that previous research has established that cultural stereotypes and representations of scientists and engineers influence the ability of women to access and flourish in STEM fields.
“Such representations in popular media are overwhelmingly male, and films directed by men are less likely to feature female protagonists.”
To see how gender shapes representation of AI scientists on screen, we the researchers analysed the 142 most influential films featuring AI from 1920 to 2020 of which 86 showed one or more AI researchers, totalling 116 individuals.
- Not a single influential AI film in history was directed solely by a woman.
- Only 9 out of 116 (8%) AI professionals in influential films were female (8 scientists, 1 CEO).
- The first film to feature a female AI creator is from 1997.
- The proportion of AI scientists and engineers who are portrayed as men in mainstream films (92%) is even higher than the percentage of men in the AI workforce (78%).
- Out of the 116 AI scientists, 38 (33%) were coded as geniuses. 37 out of the 38 geniuses shown in films were male. Due to the ‘brilliance bias’, this portrayal of AI scientists as geniuses may discourage women’s career as an AI scientist..
- AI scientists were frequently pictured as part of traditionally masculine institutions, such as large corporations or the military.
- A significant number of films (19, or 22%) feature male creators who aim to create artificial life.
- Out of the eight female AI scientists, 50% (4) were presented as inferior to or subservient to a man.
The study discusses a number of consequences of the underrepresentation of women in portrayals of AI scientists, including the negative influence on career choices, hiring practices, and the treatment of women in AI workplaces.
“All these factors lead to fewer women entering or staying in the AI field, which is both unjust in itself, and risks contributing to the development of discriminatory technology”, the report says.