AnitaB.org Insights

Abie Winner Dr. Ayanna Howard Fights Bias in Robotics

In 1999, NASA hired Dr. Ayanna Howard (our 2014 Educator Abie Award winner and GHC 17 keynote speaker) to lead a team to develop artificial intelligence for Mars rovers. However, when she arrived on her first day, a male staff member assumed she was a secretary rather than his boss.

Implicit bias such as this continues to negatively affect women and minorities in tech. Additionally, as Ayanna discovered, it also negatively affects artificial intelligence.

“You design out of your own experience — it’s what makes us human,” Ayanna explained in a recent Vanity Fair Hive profile. “Intelligent though they may be, these algorithms maintain some of the same biases that permeate society.”

Ayanna is currently studying the relationship between unconscious bias and robotics, and is looking for ways to combat this. One way is to combat bias in robotics is to have diverse engineering teams. “Diversity is all of the parameters that make your experience different,” she said. “And a lot of these systems are biased because the teams are fairly homogeneous.”

To learn more about Ayanna’s work, read the full profile: “The Trailblazing Roboticist Tackling Diversity and Bias in Artificial Intelligence.”