Artificial intelligence | Women still too few

There are too few women in the artificial intelligence (AI) sector, which risks creating biases in the algorithms that now punctuate the lives of more and more people. According to Joëlle Pineau, who works in the sector, young girls should systematically take a computer course.

The scene takes place in the late 1990s, when Joëlle Pineau was studying for a bachelor’s degree in systems design engineering at the University of Waterloo… She, who is now director of the FAIR laboratory on AI at Meta in Montreal, was doing an internship at the Flight Research Laboratory, where a voice recognition system was being developed for helicopter pilots. After a battery of tests, the researchers noticed a bias that was too great to validate their tests: they only tested male voices! The system would be unfit for use by a female pilot…

It is the trainee herself, Joëlle Pineau, who takes control of the helicopter – “under the supervision of an experienced pilot”, she specifies – to record her voice in real flight conditions, alone means of capturing vocal variations due to stress.

Today, artificial intelligence (AI) has taken a considerable place in our lives, but women remain little present in this sector. In Quebec, one in five AI professionals is a woman, according to a report by TechnoCompétences.

Exposing women to computers

This proportion comes as no surprise to Joëlle Pineau, also a professor at McGill University’s School of Computer Science. Most female computer science graduates decided their direction during their studies, while male graduates knew as soon as they arrived at university that they would go into this field, according to an internal university study.

The lack of women is such that the AI ​​industry must resolve the biases created when creating algorithms. “We develop products used by billions of people,” recalls Joëlle Pineau.

However, being a woman in the field of AI is no more difficult than in other sectors, on the contrary. “It’s an environment that offers a lot of flexibility, especially in the university research community,” says the woman who started a family of four children.

Myself, I would never have thought to find it interesting, the language of machines, but it is super interesting! Artificial intelligence offers the possibility of solving problems in any field: in education, health, transport…

Joëlle Pineau, director of the FAIR laboratory of Meta in Montreal

According to the specialist in robotics and machine learning, women are not sufficiently exposed to IT, which explains their weak presence in this field and, consequently, in the AI ​​sector. “Young girls need to be exposed to computers. Afterwards, they will decide whether to continue or not. »

Her eldest daughter has just started university studies. And even if she is not attracted by this field, her parents, both AI professionals, managed to convince her to take a computer science course… “to try!” »

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Artificial intelligence | Women still too few

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