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The Cycle of Women and Robotics: From Vicious to Virtuous (Aimee Van Wynsberghe)
The Cycle of Women and Robotics: From Vicious to Virtuous (Aimee Van Wynsberghe)
Talk: The Cycle of Women and Robotics: From Vicious to Virtuous (Aimee Van Wynsberghe)
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It is no secret that engineers and scientists around the world are disproportionately men. Regardless of how this begun society exists in a vicious cycle whereby the disproportionate numbers will continue if we don’t disrupt the cycle. The lack of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) leads to a situation where there is neglect in considering, studying, or celebrating the experiences, successes, and lives of women. The consequence of this is the creation of a gender data gap in which we have far less data on women’s role in the ‘evolution of humanity’. This gender data gap also paves the way for making robotics and AI solutions in a gendered way – reflecting the lived experience of men over women. This, in turn, makes it likely that women will lose out on the benefits of solutions and will disproportionately feel the downsides. The result of this disproportionate impact on women brings us back to where we started – fuelling the lack of women in STEM fields.

This is the vicious cycle we find ourselves in. The nature of robotics and AI makes vicious cycles like these for all kinds of vulnerable and underrepresented groups not to mention the environment if we consider electronic waste. We must, therefore, find opportunities to disrupt this vicious cycle and turn it into a virtuous one. One way of doing this is to increase female presence on the design team. This means educators, industry, and policymakers must intervene to increase the presence of women in STEM. However, this doesn’t have to mean turning every woman into a roboticist. This means acknowledging the fact that women and men experience the world differently and therefore both will have invaluable insight into how robots should be designed and developed.

Caroline Criado Perez in her book Invisible Women argues that “when we are designing a world that is meant to work for everyone we need women in the room.” Overcoming the gender data gap is not just about numbers or statistics; we need to hear the stories and experiences of women. This creates a call to action for employers, academics, and policymakers in the robotics space: women will be users of robot products, will experience robot products, will be impacted by robot products and it is time to give voice to their experiences. Only then will we have the tools – and the data – necessary to create better products and to shape our future with robots in an inclusive, ethical, and responsible way.


Aimee Van Wynsberghe - Co-founder and co-director of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics

Aimee van Wynsberghe is Assistant Professor in Ethics and Technology at TU Delft in the Netherlands. She is co-founder and co-director of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics and on the board of the Institute for Accountability in a Digital Age. Aimee is a 2018 L'Oreal Unesco 'For Women in Science' laureate. She also serves as a member of the European Commission's High-Level Expert Group on AI and is a founding board member of the Netherlands AI Alliance. Aimee has been named one of the Netherlands top 400 influential women under 38 by VIVA and was named one of the 25 ‘women in robotics you need to know about’. She is author of the book Healthcare Robots: Ethics, Design, and Implementation and has been awarded an NWO personal research grant to study how we can responsibly design service robots. Aimee has been interviewed by BBC, Quartz, Financial Times, and other International news media on the topic of ethics and robots, and is often invited to speak at International conferences and summits.




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