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Will robots and AI respond appropriately to an elderly gay couple? Researchers say it's important to make design decisions now to make certain that technology is inclusive. Illustration: Adam Poulsen, https://sites.google.com/view/adampoulsen

Are robots designed to include the queer population?

Robot technology is flourishing in multiple sectors of society, including the retail, health care, industry and education sectors. However, are the perspectives of minority groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, considered in robot and AI development?

In a new short paper in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence, Roger A. Søraa from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and co-authors Eduard Fosch-Villaronga from Leiden University in the Netherlands, and Adam Poulsen from Charles Sturt University in Australia discuss what a queering of robots might entail, and why the AI and robotics community needs to do something about this issue.

Søraa and his colleagues cite a recent study that looked at a number of drag queen Twitter accounts which were assessed by an AI-driven tool created by Jigsaw, a unit of Google that forecasts and confronts emerging threats. The tool, which was designed to measure toxicity levels of online content, flagged the drag queen accounts with greater frequency than other obviously toxic profiles, such as white supremacists.

“Without understanding the context entirely, AI-driven content moderation tools could hinder the free-speech of marginalized communities,” the researchers wrote.

They point out that technology is not developed in a vacuum, but instead reflects biases and reproduces societal values and beliefs.

That means that including the LGBTQ+ community in envisioning technologies and AI “could significantly empower the LGBTQ+ community,” Søraa and his colleagues wrote. “In eldercare, LGBTQ+- inclusive robotics could help alleviate the loneliness experienced by many queer older adults. In education, they could provide support and information to children and young adults who express complicated feelings about their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Currently, however, the researchers say there has been a lack in the inclusion of queer perspectives on robots and machines. This, they argue, should be better recognized in both the research and design of the robots of the future, and should prod developers and designers to be more inclusive in how they build and create the machines that increasingly walk, talk and act among us.

“In this respect, it is imperative that we construct mechanisms and policies that acknowledge the importance of inclusivity, diversity, and non-discrimination, also for the LGBTQ+ community in the development and use of robots and AI,” they wrote.

Reference: Poulsen, A., Fosch-Villaronga, E. & Søraa, R.A. Queering machinesNat Mach Intell (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42256-020-0157-6