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AI reveals misrepresentation of engineers online
Major brands, leading businesses and high-profile engineers have come together in a bid to change the online image search results for the word ‘engineer’, after an artificial intelligence algorithm used by The Royal Academy of Engineering found that the profession is vastly misrepresented.
The announcement comes on This is Engineering Day (6 November), which is part of a nationwide campaign led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, and held during Tomorrow’s Engineers Week (4-8 November).
To test the representation of the engineering profession online, an AI machine learning model, otherwise known as a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), analysed over 1,100 images of engineers sourced online, and then generated its own artificial images based on what it learned a typical engineer looked like.
The images generated by the GAN showed how narrowly an engineer is typically portrayed online: the majority of the generated images were of a white male wearing a hard hat. An online search, conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering on 21 October 2019, found that 63% of images on the first page of the search results were of a person in a hard hat, despite the fact that only a small minority of professional engineers wear hard hats most of the time.
This Is Engineering Day aims to radically change the stereotyped perceptions of engineering, and to celebrate the varied and vital roles that engineers play, from developing medical technologies like brain scanners and clean energy solutions, to powering the social media platforms and smartphones we rely on to keep in touch every day.
Over 100 brands across the UK that depend on engineering – including the BBC, Facebook, ITV, Transport for London, Ocado, Rolls-Royce and National Grid – have signed a pledge to increase the public visibility of more representative images of engineers and engineering, and helped create a new online library of free to use images of engineers that better represent what engineers and engineering really look like. This has been developed to encourage website owners and image users to deploy a more diverse range of images when showcasing engineers and the industries in which they work.
Dr Hayaatun Sillem, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineers play a profoundly important role in shaping the world around us – from designing our cities and transport systems, to delivering clean energy solutions, enhancing cybersecurity and advancing healthcare – but that’s simply not reflected in online image searches.
“That’s why on This is Engineering Day I’m appealing to anyone who uses or promotes images of engineers to join us in challenging outdated and narrow stereotypes of engineering. We want to ensure that engineers are portrayed in a much more representative way, and that we help young people see the fantastic variety of opportunities on offer.”