Diverse design thinking in technology

Contributed by Muriam Fancy. Muriam is a masters student at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. She recently completed her BA in Peace, Conflict, and Justice with a double minor in Indigenous Studies; Diaspora & Transnational Studies. She runs Diverse Innovations (@diverseinnovat1), a platform discussing social good technology.

Amazon launched an artificial intelligence (“AI”) system in efforts to revolutionize its recruitment strategy, and found that their AI program was discriminatory against women. A Chicago court implemented an AI system called COMPAS to do a predictive risk analysis of the chances offenders are to re-offend either by committing the same crime that they were charged for or committing a more significant offense. However, the AI system used discriminated against black defendants noting that they will most likely commit a more significant offense in comparison to white defendants – read more in Chapter 11 of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives

Technology can act as a catalyst in our daily lives if it mitigates issues of discrimination and racism. However, this calls for the question of how can we make technology more inclusive? Well, it begins with how the technology is designed, thus calling for diverse design thinking, which explains why a “human-centered” approach is required when technology is trying to make objective analysis and decisions.

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University found that one of the fundamental steps to implement diverse design thinking is to have better data. But how do we define “better data,” really that means that we need data that is inclusive of issues at the societal level, to achieve “collective experience of inclusion.” Similarly, Friedman and Hendry (authors of “Value Sensitive Design: Shaping Technology with Moral Imagination) found that using a “value sensitive design” questioned whether the stakeholders involved impacted the framework of the technology, thus imposing biases on the type of data included or who the technology is meant to target.

How can we expect to use technology in our daily lives when our experiences are not mirrored in the data used to design the technology itself? Diversity forces innovation and technology to change the fabric of its purpose but also forces us to question how society functions fundamentally. If we are to use an empirical approach through technology to solve issues we face in society – how can we do that if a percentage of the population cannot be included in the function of the product/service itself. 

For example, an issue concerning many people to date is the effect of automation on work, an issue explored in depth in Chapter 10 of Dr. Baecker’s book. Based on the premise discussed, the consequences will only be detrimental if we are unable to tackle bias in the design thinking methodology of the creation of technology. “IMF res­earchers predict disproportionately higher job losses among wom­en when automation displaces an estimated 10 per cent of jobs over the next two decades, according to analysis conducted on 30 countries.”

Furthermore, this article would like to posit the notion that genuinely diverse design thinking in technology can also begin in the room of ideation. Society internationally combats the issue of the imbalance of perspectives within a room, whether that be a gender imbalance, racial imbalance, or even concerning the ages of individuals. Diverse design thinking can be implemented if there is diversity in thought. Issues of racism and discrimination in technology is merely a reflection of the fractionalization of society. Cathy O’Neill (author of Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy) comes to a similar conclusion noting that it is up to us as society to model algorithms based on how we want the world to operate, and hopefully that means a more equitable and inclusive society.

The inclusion of others in both the creation and facilitation of technology will indeed be successful if it is diverse in the fabric of the product. For a productive and positive future of the integration of technology, diversity and inclusion must be associated with growth, as that is the only way we can achieve progress. 


What other steps would we need to include to accomplish a diverse design thought approach to technology?

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