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Interview: Dr. Ayanna Howard Wants You to Ask the Hard Questions About 'Sex, Race & Robots'

'...I want people to question. That is the power that we have and it's questioning everything.'
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  • Sex, Race, and Robots
  • '...I want people to question. That is the power that we have and it's questioning everything.'

Go Behind the Scenes of Sex, Race, and Robots.

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About the Creator

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.

What listeners say about Sex, Race, and Robots

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Will not return

Let me explain my ratings.
Overall - "Pretty good". That is 3 stars. I can't say it was great.
Performance - "It's great". 4 stars because performer was great, nice voice, good intonation, etc.
Story - "It's okay". 2 stars. I wish author reviewed this book with somebody of a slightly different perspective on things. Some parts were very interesting just because I was never doing AI, rather regular programming. Not much in this book was a "wow" for me but many times I wanted to scream, because author was doing some weird logical conclusions to shift to a social problems.

40 people found this helpful

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Incredibly informative, approachable, and well formulated.

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of AI, so when this book was suggested to me, I was very skeptical, but it has absolutely opened my eyes to the benefits of AI and the (mostly) avoidable bias related down falls. We must all work together to stop AI from learning the multiple cultural, racial, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic based biases we possess as a species. I applaud Dr. Howard for writing such an incredibly accessible and thoughtful provoking book and thank her for opening my eyes and helping me to action.

22 people found this helpful

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Makes you ponder the future of tech

First off, the narrator Amandla Stenberg was amazing! Her voice inflection, her passion for the topic came through beautifully! I truly hope Audible employs her voice acting for more projects! The content of this book touches upon many, many aspects of our lives! I was surprised to learn about chat bots, and the algorithms that continually feed you more of what you search for. The information about how and where AI is being used was surprisingly fascinating! I applaud Dr. Ayanna Howard for her dedication to her profession (never giving up despite the pushback she received) and her willingness to pull back the digital curtain showing us how and why AI is biased. I truly enjoyed this informative book! So much to learn in a easy to digest format!

18 people found this helpful

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Powerful message, engaging performance

Love this book. No one understands the biases in the emerging and pervasive AI technology better than Dr. Howard because (a) she's a pioneer leader in the field herself and (b) she has experienced those biases in the field that created the technology in the first place. The book weaves in Dr. Howard's personal story with explanations of AI everyone can understand. The story is eye opening. And the performance by Amandla Stenberg is really outstanding!

17 people found this helpful

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Brilliant read. Worth the listen.

Overall a brilliant read and certainly digestible for anyone who may not have much technical experience in the field of AI. This book provides fundamental and insightful knowledge on AI and the dangers of letting programmer biases go unchecked. The author also provides practical suggestions on what the reader can do to play their part in ensuring that AI remains accountable.

The author's personal accounts further enhanced the reading experience by grounding the reader in the realities--both positive and negative--in the field of AI, especially as one of the few black females in the field.

13 people found this helpful

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Extremely creative and informative

The author does an amazing job of analyzing the intersection of prejudice and artificial intelligence in all its iterations and implications. I appreciate how she makes the technical aspects accessible to a general audience. The interdisciplinarity baked into her analysis adds depth and creativity to this unique work.

10 people found this helpful

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A serious discussion starter

I don't live in the Tech. world but instead have a military background. I found this extremely intriguing and would love to have the opportunity to talk to Dr. Howard in depth about her findings. This book will expand your views on so many topics to include our interactions with AI. I truly loved this book.

7 people found this helpful

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Thoroughly Enjoyed

I thoroughly enjoyed these book it brought up thoughts about AI that you rarely even think of and where it could possibly be headed in the future. And I loved learning about Dr. Howard and her background, I absolutely think Amandala was a great choice for narrator. Will definitely be a repeat listen for me.

4 people found this helpful

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I am exceptionally happy with this audio book.

This Sex, Race, and Robots audio book is awesome! Not only does it give useful techniques, it is especially helpful if you lack confidence, this is a confidence booster as well!

4 people found this helpful

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Hidden Curriculum in Robot and AI Design

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!

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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Heledd42
  • 03-21-21

Outstanding review of AI and its ethics

A beautifully written and narrated review of AI's developments an insightful look at its impact and potential impact on society. The first non-tecchy accessible text on AI ethics I've come across so far (and I've read a LOT).