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What Developers Really Think About AI And Bias

StackOverflow asked 100,000 developers about some of the hottest topics of today, including whether they’re responsible for the impact of AI.

What Developers Really Think About AI And Bias
[Photo: Aleksei_Derin/iStock]

We’ve all heard about biased algorithms and the need for AI designed with transparency and inclusivity at its heart. But what do the developers actually coding all of this stuff think?

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StackOverflow recently asked 100,000 developers to participate in a 30-minute, wide-ranging survey that hits on just this. It’s worth noting that the developers themselves were every bit as homogenous as you might expect–93% male, 74% white, 93% heterosexual, about half between the ages of 24 and 35. But their answers are a revealing look into how people writing code think about AI–namely, that they’re concerned about its impact on society.

[Screenshot: Stack Overflow]

Most Developers Say Someone Needs To Take Responsibility For AI–Many Say Themselves

This year we saw many designers offering a mea culpa, admitting that they were responsible for dark patterns and other manipulative bits of UI that shape human behavior in bad ways. So what do the surveyed developers think about their own role in creating tech, including AI? Is Frankenstein responsible for his own monster when it runs amok?

Nearly 50% of the surveyed developers believe that the people creating AI should be responsible for considering the ramifications of the technology. Not the bosses. Not the middle managers. The coders. That might sound bleak–why not more? Well, another 28% believe that government regulation should be responsible for the AI being developed. And only 7.7% believe there should be no one in charge of watching over AI. In other words, respondents seemed open and willing to take some level of responsibility for their own code.

[Screenshot: Stack Overflow]

Most Are Worried About AI And Inequality

One graph is a bit funny, since the corresponding question asked people how worried they were about the fairness of AI versus the Singularity–the moment when machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence (which some technologists believe will happen within the next century, if not sooner).

Developers, however, are actually 1.5 times more worried on average about how AI perpetuates inequality through problems like systematic bias, in which an algorithm might deny someone a home mortgage simply because of the color of their skin. Meanwhile, responding designers were more concerned about the Singularity than their engineering peers–which might be explained by the fact that the survey didn’t involve a lot of designers in the first place.

[Screenshot: Stack Overflow]

They’re Excited For AI To Automate Work

So far, these respondents seem pretty with it, right? They’re willing to take responsibility for their own societal impact. They’re cognizant that they must create software that doesn’t discriminate. Victory lap time!

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Not so fast. When people were asked what was most exciting about AI, their top answer was job automation. That’s right, 40% of the people coding our future are at least indirectly excited for the machines to come for our jobs. In all seriousness, according to most analysts, a combination of robots and AI really could replace some workers within the next decade or two–though people like Bill Gates imagine that this job automation will transform our world into a new leisure society.

Still, developers, please, put those keyboards down for a moment and repeat after me: “I will not automate anyone else’s job before a living wage and free healthcare are assured for everyone.” Thanks.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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