What’s the scariest thing about artificial intelligence? A Terminator-style machine rebellion? Robots taking our jobs?
For two pioneers of the field, the fears are more pedestrian—if potentially almost as serious.
Speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International on Monday, Booking.com president and CEO Gillian Tans said that one of her biggest concerns about the field is the paucity of diversity in the tech industry.
The need to diversify the tech field isn’t just about optics, she says. When the people creating A.I. algorithms are homogeneous—or the data that feeds those algorithms reflects a homogeneous segment of society—the result is unavoidable, says Tans: “You get all kinds of bias in the data.” If the industry doesn’t focus on fixing the issue, she adds, “we’ll get other challenges in the future.”
Her fellow panelist, TomTom co-founder Corinne Vigreux, puts it slightly more bluntly: “All the algorithms are programmed by white males—that’s not a good idea.”
Vigreux adds that the educational system, which she believes is not providing students with a strong background in technology, is another hurdle. “The whole world is going digital, but the education system is just not coping,” she says. “Tech education in school—that keeps me up at night.”
In the future, society’s primary divide will not be the rich and the poor, says Vigreux, who started a coding school to help address the problem. Instead, it will come down to “the digitally literate and the digitally illiterate.”
“If we don’t empower this generation to understand [the technology] behind the decisions they’re making,” she says, “they’ll be the victims of it.”
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