Saturday, January 18, 2014
So a funny thing happened on the way to the blog…
Browsing through prior posts I was surprised by the ads that popped up. Right next to our story on abortion protest buffer zones, appeared a political ad for a Texas senator trumpeting his Right to Life stance. I checked the Reproductive Rights Law Prof Blog, and yep, the same right to life ad there. But not when I went to the Business Law Prof Blog.
Checking back a few hours later, the ad morphed into a video ad for a video game (I think) for something called Legends of Angels featuring a Victoria-Secret-esque screenshot of a woman’s chest clad in tight fitting bikini top.
Grrr. Why is it so hard to take women’s concerns seriously? Why is it that mentions of “women” automatically trigger sexist depictions and marketing?
No worries, my colleagues comforted me, it’s kind of funny. Really? Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon are funny. This, not so much.
Also, they counseled, it’s just the algorithm. Oh, ok it’s just the innocuous mechanical formulation of the robotic computer. But, hello, Dorothy, there is someone moving the levers behind the curtain. People program these formulas.
As Soraya Chemaly (Salon) explained in Will Robots Make Us Sexist? this is one example of “how discriminatory norms manifest themselves through technology.”
The tech industry is not known for its profound understanding of gender or for producing products optimized to meet the needs of women (whom the patriarchy has cast as “second intelligence” humans). Rather, the industry is an example of a de facto sex-segregated environment, in which, according to sociologist Philip Cohen, “men’s simple assumption that women don’t really exist as people” is reinforced and replicated. Artificial intelligence is being developed by people who benefit from socially dominant norms and little vested personal incentive to challenge them.
I am not amused.