Welcome to the December 8th review stop on the blog tour for Sex, Race & Robots by Dr. Alyanna Howard, organized by Audiobookworm Promotions. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for spotlights, audio excerpts, another review, and an interview with the author.
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About the Book
Sex, Race, and Robots
How to Be Human in the Age of AI
by Dr. Alyanna Howard
Published 24 September 2020
by Audible Originals, LLC.
Narrator: Amandla Stenberg
Length: 6 hours 15 minutes
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
In the movies, robots can be terrifying. In reality, thinking machines are disrupting the world in ways that are even more disturbing than in Hollywood fantasies—but they also have the potential to change our lives for the better.
In this stirring, visionary work, acclaimed roboticist Dr. Ayanna Howard explores how the tech world’s racial and sexual biases are infecting the next generation of Artificial Intelligence, with profoundly negative effects for humans of all genders and races.
Drawing on cutting-edge research, and her own experience as one of the few Black women in the field of robotics, Dr. Howard shares how she navigated bias in her own coming-of-age as a roboticist. She also reveals how the world of computer programmers, which largely lacks women and Black people, is producing thinking machines that too often think like their flawed creators.
The danger of bias in our AI-powered machines has never been greater. Governments are using supercomputers to track COVID-19 patients. AI is being employed to monitor Black Lives Matter protests. Voice recognition systems have been rolled out that can’t hear female voices. Dr. Howard delivers a stirring warning about the risks of AI and robots—but also offers an uplifting message about empowerment and where we need to go next.
My Rating: 5 Stars
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I was granted complimentary access to Sex, Race, and Robots on Audible via Audiobookworm Promotions in exchange for an honest review as part of my participation in the blog tour for this title. Thank you to both Dr. Alyanna Howard and Audiobookworm Promotions for the opportunity! This has not swayed my opinion. My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
Sex, Race, and Robots – How to Be Human in the Age of AI is a collection of thoughts on robots and AI in history, in our modern world, and in the future, and how the biases of those creating these machines and systems have become intertwined in how the robots perform and how the AIs make their decisions. It’s thought-provoking, informative, and overall a very enjoyable read.
As a woman who has always been drawn to technology myself, I found it refreshing to hear a woman’s perspective on this topic. I’ve been the girl in the high school electronics lab pulled aside to ask if I was there because I was interested in electronics or boys (I wasn’t the flirty type and I mentored the younger classes.) I felt pushed out and ultimately pursued other degrees both times I attempted a bachelor of engineering. Attempt #1 I was 1 of 16 girls in the first-year class and 12 of the others were international students. Attempt #2 I was 1 of 6, and 3 of us switched to other degrees by the half-way point. During the one work experience semester I did before transferring the second time the only other woman in the office was the secretary. (And that’s the story of how I spent 9 years in undergraduate studies and ended up with the vastly different majors of history and computer science.)
Dr. Howard touched on how AIs learning from records of interactions in a historically patriarchal society have unintentionally learned to attribute genders to professions, which becomes a problem when they’re used to filter job applicants. How the sensors on self-driving cars, which rely on light reflection, don’t register darker skin tones as well as paler ones, or how they fail to identify children simply because they’re usually tested during school hours when most children are safely indoors. How speech recognition software responds best to male voices speaking in predominantly white dialects and accents because that’s primarily who’s designing and testing the programs. How search engines return images of startup CEOs when asked for rebellious white men, and mug shots when asked for rebellious black men, because those are the images and attributed descriptors they have been fed. The field of engineering in the western world is still very much a white man’s playground, and because of that the robots and AIs being built are indoctrinated to be both sexist and racist, even if that’s not the intent. This reminds me of a concept taught in sociology and psychology called hidden curriculum: the accidental lessons taught alongside the intentional ones. A child who grows up only seeing male doctors and female nurses, especially in an environment that also belittles nurses as less skilled or less intelligent, grows into an adult who doesn’t trust female doctors. This is what we’re doing to our robots and our AI systems.
In short, this is a book about ethics in robotics and AI and how we need diverse minds and voices in their creation in order to avoid passing on our own biases to the non-human workforce of our modern world. It’s insightful and very well written, and I would absolutely be interested in reading (or listening to) more from Dr. Howard.
The audio performance by Amandla Stenberg was perfect, too. She was easy to listen to, had no trouble with technical terms or all of the various names of scientists and authors referenced. I usually listen at 1.5x speed and that felt like a normal conversation pace.
5 stars all around!
About the Author
Dr. Ayanna Howard is an innovator, entrepreneur, leader, and international expert in robotics and AI. Currently, Dr. Howard is Professor and Chair of the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Partnership on AI and Autodesk.
Prior to Georgia Tech, Dr. Howard was at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where she held the title of Senior Robotics Researcher and Deputy Manager in the Office of the Chief Scientist. Her research encompasses advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), assistive technologies, and robotics, and has resulted in over 250 peer-reviewed publications. At NASA, she worked on designing advanced technologies for future Mars rover missions. Now, she works on projects ranging from healthcare robots to developing methods to mitigate bias and trust in AI. In 2013, she founded Zyrobotics, an education technology startup, which designs AI-powered STEM tools and learning games for early childhood education.
To date, Dr. Howard’s unique accomplishments have been highlighted through a number of awards and articles, including highlights in Vanity Fair, USA Today, Upscale, Black Enterprise, and TIME Magazine, as well as being recognized as one of the 23 most powerful women engineers in the world by Business Insider and one of the Top 50 U.S. Women in Tech by Forbes. She regularly advises on issues concerning robotics, AI, and workforce development, including functioning as an AI advisor on the YouTube Future of AI documentary series produced by Robert Downey Jr. and Evaluator for the Google $25M AI for Social Good Challenge.
Dr. Howard is a frequent speaker and media expert source for venues such as CNN and NPR. She regularly gives invited talks at venues such as the Smithsonian Design Museum, TED talks, Science Museum of London, Detroit Science Museum, and the National Security Agency. She has also been featured in various interviews and podcasts hosted by places like PBS, Discovery Channel, BBC, Fox News, Huffington Post, and VIBE
Follow the Tour
Dec 6 Sadie’s Spotlight
Dec 7 Dab of Darkness Audiobook Reviews
Dec 8 Westveil Publishing
Dec 9 4 the Love of Audiobooks
Dec 9 T’s Stuff
Dec 10 Audiobook News
Dec 11 The Book Junkie Reads…
Dec 11 Jazzy Book Reviews
Dec 12 Super Booked!
Dec 12 Teatime and Books
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