- The Washington Times
Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Women are far less enthusiastic about the prospect of driverless cars than men, recent studies show.

The latest survey by the AAA car owners club found that 71% of respondents expressed fear about riding in a fully autonomous vehicle. However, a significantly higher percentage of women (79%) than men (62%) said they were fearful of being in a driverless car.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab recently found 30% of men and only 14.3% of women, regardless of age, said they would feel comfortable riding in a fully self-driving vehicle.

Additionally, the MIT researchers found that 53% of women and 32% of men said they would prefer a “help driver” or backup safety personnel in an autonomous car.

Experts on women’s issues and technology argue that the trust gap between the sexes is widened by Silicon Valley financiers who rarely seek input from women.

“The large majority of VCs [venture capitalists] are men, and they are just much more likely to give funding to male entrepreneurs,” British feminist Caroline Criado Perez said in an interview in Wired magazine last month. “And male entrepreneurs are much more likely to develop technology that helps men.”

Undeterred by technical difficulties and widely reported accidents, several tech companies and auto manufacturers are making strides to replace human drivers with robots in a growing driverless-vehicle market valued at $1.42 billion three years ago and expected to reach $24 billion by 2027.

Tesla’s Autopilot system allows its cars to brake, accelerate and steer by themselves, while Audi’s new A8 allows for completely hands-off driving under certain conditions. Volvo and Mercedes have similar mechanisms in models that are now for sale.

Researchers studying how women interact with high tech have long stated that most technological products and services have been designed only with men in mind.

Earlier this year, Ms. Criado Perez published “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,” which explores how various parts of the modern world appear to be designed more for men than women. The book delves into an array of subjects, including transportation systems, tax structures, smartphones and voice-recognition technology.

According to Mutale Nkonde, a researcher at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, facial recognition is a particularly tricky issue.

An artificial intelligence expert, Ms. Nkonde said some firms are experimenting with facial recognition in dashboard cameras to gauge passenger emotions. However, facial recognition technology has been shown to have major accuracy issues when used on darker skin tones.

And last year Joy Buolamwini, an MIT computer scientist and founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, conducted a much-heralded study that found that facial recognition software developed by Google, Microsoft and IBM largely failed when identifying the faces of black women.

“It is very hard for me to trust driverless cars when they are proven to be biased in their functionality,” Ms. Nkonde told The Washington Times.

While there are some examples of women developing the technology, the vast majority of the development is being done by men for men, Ms. Nkonde said.

She said the real danger is that the federal government is not regulating the driverless market, which means that the future will be determined by the technology being built now.

“It feels like a bunch of developers that watch ‘The Jetsons’ want to make ‘The Jetsons,’” Ms. Nkonde said. “They do not realize we don’t live in a cartoon. We live in real life with real consequences.”

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