Get Badass about Bias: the war against unconscious bias in artificial intelligence

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Ingrid Marsh
Ingrid Marsh signed this petition

The Problem:

The general public is currently not aware of, and or are not given unconscious bias training. Yet, studies reveal that girls and minority groups are impacted by stereotypes and unconscious biases which erode their self-belief, motivation and intellectual performance by age six. A further study also illustrated that girls and young women feel they hold themselves back due to gender stereotypes, sexism, and anxiety about how they look. The situation is set to get worse too, as a recent study in the journal Science showed that Artificial Intelligence, the fastest growing area of technology, perpetuates the stereotypes we unconsciously hold about marginalised groups. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the term for computer systems that think and act like humans and its use is rapidly increasing. It is imperative that the general public become aware of their own unconscious biases and with the use of AI on the increase, help each other to spot and override them in technology too. 

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is where we make snap judgements and assessments about people, especially those who don't look like us. It happens to us all, especially when we are tired or rushed. Plus, we are becoming increasingly reliant on AI to make important decisions for us, such as in recruitment selection. The biases of the individual coders get passed on to AI. Indeed, while humans can counteract their learned behaviours, computers can't. This has resulted in the reinforcement of sexism, racism and other forms of discriminatory outcomes.

The solution:

Despite its devastating impact on lives, livelihoods and human rights, at most, unconscious bias training is a one-day workshop in corporate companies. The woman and man on the street have never even heard of the word, let alone it being perpetuated in the technology we are overly reliant on. Yet, experts agree the solution to the problem is humans. To prevent these prejudices being amplified the onus is on us.

The Plan

We are calling upon the UK government to make it compulsory for schools, universities, and workplaces to hold an Unconscious Bias Awareness week.

To also equip the general public with jargon-free free tools to help spot, report and override biases in technology that are impacting the lives, livelihoods and human rights of women and minority groups.

About me:

My name is Ingrid Marsh, I am a confidence and communication coach, a broadcaster on women's radio station, an unconscious bias trainer and a growth mindset guru. I coach women to shatter their inner glass ceiling and remove the obstacles of stereotyping to express their authentic voices. When I read an article about a new study on Artificial Intelligence (AI) that was published in the journal Science, I decided to act. In my quest to get women's voices heard, and having to move my son three times due to limited expectations of him, I have witnessed the silent, yet devastating impact of stereotyping blocking human potential and eroding self-esteem. Women struggled to their authentic selves for fear of not fitting in and I had to move my son three times in the schooling system, once mid-secondary. All the black boys with the same ability, that is, straight five's in their primary school Sats and impeccable behavioral records, were all placed in a low stream and, denied the opportunity to do treble science. Yet, in the school, I moved him to, one with their unconscious biases in check, although he was still a minority, in the treble science he achieved an A* in physics, an A* in chemistry and an A* in Biology. The article, nonetheless, showed that in the fastest growing area of technology, stereotypes held about women and minority groups are being perpetuated at speed. The general public has never even heard of the word unconscious bias yet children are impacted by stereotypes by age six. 

Experts say, "Removing bias or statistical facts about the world will make the machine model less accurate. You can’t easily remove bias, so you have to learn how to work with it. We are self-aware, we can decide to do the right thing instead of the prejudiced option." - Caliskan Princeton University.

Please sign the petition to urge the government to create a compulsory unconscious bias training week in schools, universities, and workplaces and to provide jargon-free information to help children and young adults spot and override biases in technology.  

How simple is it to make a change?

Research supports the idea that if we simply stop and give ourselves a moment to think, we can make the unconscious, conscious and make more healthy less biased decisions. 

STOP: Slow down your thoughts

THINK: Was it a snap judgment?

RECONSIDER: Your decision

Do you have any examples of what is happening?

+ There were instances where algorithms were only showing highly paid roles and jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to men.  

+ Robot judges were used to shift through 6000 applicants in a beauty contest assessing for facial symmetry and wrinkles. Due to the data it was provided it didn't flag up anyone with dark skin as a winner.

+ Data resulted in over-policing in predominantly black areas and under-policing in white areas because of software that was biased against blacks.

There are many, many more. Check out the articles below. 

Stats and facts:

  • An article in the Guardian highlights how just like humans Artificial intelligence can be both sexist and racist. Joanna Bryson, a computer scientist at the University of Bath and a co-author said: “A lot of people are saying this is showing that AI is prejudiced. No. This is showing we are prejudiced and that AI is learning it."
  • By age 10, due to stereotyping, a quarter of girls feel they need to be perfect
  • Research published in the journal 'Science' demonstrates how biases are replicated in machine learning tools
  • The use of AI is on the increase and predicted to jump from 54% to 63% in three years time. Source: 2017 Global Digital Survey
  • The Gartner market research company forecasts that the era of smart machines will become one of the most disruptive phases in the history of IT. Source:

Useful Articles:

The New York Times highlighted a study by Yale University which concluded that "Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills."

An article on the BBC's news website highlighted the work done by Joy Buolamwini, a postgraduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was unable to carry out her work on face recognition algorithms unless she wore a white mask as it did not recognize her dark skin.

New York Times article on a study that raised concerns about high paying jobs not being shown to women in search results.

Why diversity programmes fail is highlighted in the Harvard Business Review.

Please sign our petition today for a fairer tomorrow.


Founder of Women With Voices