By Disha Rawal
Despite a string of acclaimed musical performances, a stage decked in Swarovski crystals, monologues and speeches re-creating the Great American dream—the most stunning thing that happened at this year’s academy awards was when Frances McDormand made all female nominees rise. It was a beautiful moment in the long struggle to reclaim voices of women in all spheres of public life.
In the next five years, humanity is going to flirt with another revolution and emerge transformed: the fourth Industrial Revolution. Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, IoT will rise from being buzzwords to platforms on which the new ‘modern’ economy will run, silently seeping into age-old habits and practices. Where will women stand in this change? Marginalised—as the past technological revolutions have made them, pushed to wealth-strapped pockets—or will there be another, complete reclamation?
“Women in Cryptocurrencies push back against Blockchain Bros” read the New York Times on the 25th February this year. Hardly has Blockchain entered dictionaries, and there is already a big boys’ club of blockchain and cryptocurrency giants who launch Initial Coin Offerings with photos of swimwear models and have corporate parties in strip clubs. Women had recently recognised the toxicity of Silicon Valley’s ‘tech bros’. But with Blockchain Bros having the knowledge, the networks and the money itself, women are finding themselves becoming a minority in this new rush of financial change. Women currently make for only 5-6% of blockchain investors. Clearly, there isn’t the only disadvantage, there is also disinterest. Female entrepreneurs are now making up for this by holding events and seminars designed to lure women into the field and urge ‘ladies to consider crypto’.
This step is crucial because in these early days of the industry, assets will be accumulated and the foundation for future profit-making be set. If women lose out here and now, wealth is again going to be concentrated with one sex and women will be pushed to non-proprietorship.
Less work, more jobs
Today, many families in the world shout out commands to box-sized devices which act as comprehensive home assistants, and there is a driver-less car in space right now. AI is making inroads into tasks that are mostly repetitive, mundane but necessary, killing the compulsions that human beings are tied to. Many years ago, one had to clean every stain from every piece of clothing by hand, remove every speck of dust from the house manually, and stand over simmering stoves for hours to do something as simple as boil water. These time-consuming tasks were mostly relegated to women, and it was almost women’s full-time job as wives and daughters to perform these maintenance tasks. The commonality that these tasks share is that they barely need creativity, don’t present new challenges and do not have any major learning curve effects. Basically, they don’t exploit what every human being is uniquely equipped to do—think, create, ideate and transform. So, as technologies eliminate the need to perform these tasks, humans become even more human, more in touch with their potentialities. No wonder, there have never been more people in the arts than now. More and more people are monetising traditional ‘hobbies’ like fine arts, fitness, writing, music and cooking on smaller and more viable scales.
What does this mean for women? As these mundane tasks are taken over by machines, women will be freed to take up tasks that draw more on their skill sets, try new activities and most importantly, earn money out of them. That is a major development, also because this cultural shift will soon begin to have psychological effects. The studies that point to lower entrepreneurial capacities in women, especially along the risk-taking capacity scale often present a very negative deterministic picture. However, if women are not socialised into taking up low-risk and low-creativity tasks, that too for decades on end, one can expect more mental flexibility and resilience to develop. That can lead to women occupying more leadership positions and making business decisions. Another major psychological barrier that grows in women’s minds over years, right from the childhood, is fear. From the looks of it, AI may change that soon.
The first shoots of change
Whenever you question the status of women’s safety, both on the internet and in physical spaces, one of the most common remedies given is increased monitoring. However, it is virtually impossible to monitor all potentially harmful activities that take place online and offline. Companies like Facebook are actually facing a trust-crisis because of these fears, and are resorting to AI-based models to monitor huge amounts of information and spot early red flags. Similarly, models like predictive policing have proven to be successful in noticing unorganised crimes. With more automated, unbiased and reliable monitoring, women can feel much safer using public spaces and the internet.
However, can all this happen without female involvement in the sites of technological power? Perhaps not. Women need to actively shape priorities to orient technology towards their own needs. Inclusivity is thus a major challenge for all institutions engaged in tech and must be addressed at the right time.
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