Why representation matters in AI development?

Why representation matters in AI development?
By Mohamed Gesalla | February 23, 2022

A recent genocide took place against Rohingya in Myanmar, a country that is formerly known as Burma. Rohingya is a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that are not recognized by Myanmar as citizens or one of the 135 recognized ethic groups in the country. The resulting causality toll of the humanitarian crises reached a staggering 10,000 people and more than 700,00 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum found these numbers along with other evidence compelling to conclude that Myanmar’s military committed ethnic cleansing, crime against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya. The government in Myanmar partaking in these crimes was not the supersizing reality as the succeeding military regime that ruled Myanmar failed to address ethnic minority grievances or to provide security for these communities for many years, which has led to arm race and created powerful non-state armed groups (Crisisgroup2020).

In 2010, the new predominantly Buddhist government introduced wide-ranging reforms towards political and economic liberalization but continued to discriminate against the Rohingya. Since the reforms, the country has seen an increase in Buddhist nationalism and Anti-Muslim violence (HumaRightsCouncil2018). As a result of economic liberation reforms constituted by the government in 2011, the telecommunication sector in Myanmar witnessed an unprecedented drop in SIM-card prices going from $200 to $2. This explosion of the internet allowed more than 18 million people out of 50 million to have access to Facebook, compared to 1.1% of the population having access to the internet in 2011.

Facebook became the main source of information in a country that was emerging from a military dictatorship, ethnic division, and a population with no proper education on spread of misinformation through the internet and social media platforms. All these created a fertile environment for widespread hate speech against the Muslim minority and especially the Rohingya. Facebook was the surprise that exacerbated the crises in Myanmar, it was used as a platform not only by Buddhist extremist groups but by authorities fueling these violent groups as found in this post “every citizen has the duty to safeguard race, religion, cultural identities and national interest” (HumaRightsCouncil2018).

Facebook and other social media platforms use sophisticated machine learning and AI driven tools for hate speech detection, however; these systems are reviewed and made better by content reviewers who have deep understanding of certain cultures and languages. Even though Facebook, now known as Meta, was warned by human rights activists that its platform was being used to spread Anti-Muslim hate speech, but Facebook didn’t take any actions because the company couldn’t deal with the Burmese language. As of 2014, the social media giant had only one content reviewer who spoke Burmese. Facebook’s statement reviled that their Deeptext engine failed to detect hate speech, their workforce does on represent the people they serve, and evidently, they do not care about the disastrous impacts of their platform. The Facebook (Meta) – Myanmar incident is only a prime example of many catastrophic impacts that biases and lack of representation in technology development can cause.

In recent years, new technology development across different industries have been adapting AI techniques to optimize and make systems more advanced and sophisticated. As this dependency on AI continues, all segments of society will use AI in one form or another. To ensure the development of technology with minimal biases and defects as possible, there need to be fair representation of all sectors served. Even though there have been efforts at the federal government level to push corporation to diversify their workforce, there need to be more thorough policies. For example, a tech company might have a diverse workforce, but most of the minority groups works in the factory and only a few works in design and executive positions. From a policy perspective, the government needs to go beyond just requiring corporation to meet certain diversity numbers to being specific that those numbers need to be met at the group level inside the organization.

Companies often define diversity as the diversity of thoughts which is valid, but it cannot be segregated from the diversity of religion, gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc. Diversity and representation benefits are not restricted on meeting the needs of the consumers as it has direct benefits on corporations as well. Research found that companies with the most gender and ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were ‘33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability (medium).

There is no doubt that technology has made our lives better in many ways. As it might be a mean for corporation to make profits, there is still a mutually beneficial incentive for consumers and companies to diversify the work force. Diversity and representation ensure the development of technologies that serve all segments of society, minimize discrimination and biases, prevent tragedies, and increase profitability for corporations. Individuals of certain communities know their problems and needs best, and they must be included in the conversation and the decision making. Policy makers and businesses have an obligation to ensure the inclusion of the people served. In my opinion, representation is an effective way to avoid or at least minimize the risk of technologies contributing to another genocide.

https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/now-is-the-time-to-recognize-the- genocide-in-burma/
https://varian- my.sharepoint.com/personal/cns6848_varian_com/Documents/Desktop/www.crisisgroup.org/asi a/south-east-asia/myanmar/312-identity-crisis-ethnicity-and-conflict-myanmar
https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/FFM-Myanmar/A_HRC_39_64.pdf https://www.google.com/search?q=myanmar+genocide&rlz=1C1SQJL_enUS919US919&sxsrf=AP
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-jobs-automation-insight/amazon-scraps-secret- ai-recruiting-tool-that-showed-bias-against-women-idUSKCN1MK08G
https://www.google.com/search?q=spread+of+hate+speech+through+facebook&tbm=isch&ved=2 ahUKEwi55Yf-vID2AhViP30KHbS8C3sQ2- cCegQIABAA&oq=spread+of+hate+speech+through+facebook&gs_lcp=CgNpbWcQAzIHCCMQ7wMQ J1DVjARYxp8EYJSiBGgCcAB4AIAB5wGIAY8IkgEFMC42LjGYAQCgAQGqAQtnd3Mtd2l6LWltZ8ABAQ &sclient=img&ei=BfcKYvnOJ-L-9AO0- a7YBw&bih=714&biw=1536&rlz=1C1SQJL_enUS919US919#imgrc=Y7NkBHg1KnNU8M
https://medium.com/groupon-design-union/diversity-in-product-development-is-always- important-even-when-selling-coupons-7138cf6946f8