Many superior robots in movies are white or played by white voices, researchers say.
Researchers suggested machines have distinct racial identities and this perpetuates "real world" racial stereotypes.

The "whiteness" of artificial intelligence (AI) risks a "racially homogenous" workforce as humans create machines skewed by their biases, a study suggests.

The University of Cambridge study examined AI in society, including in films, Google searches, stock images and robot voices.

Researchers suggested machines have distinct racial identities and this perpetuates "real world" racial stereotypes.

Non-abstract AI in internet search engine results usually had either Caucasian features or were the colour white, according to the researchers.

Comment: Keep in mind that someone is actually funding this "research".

Most virtual voices in devices talked in "standard white middle-class English" as "ideas of adding black dialects have been dismissed as too controversial or outside the target market," the study concluded.

The experts analysed recent research from a range of fields, including Human-Computer Interaction and Critical Race Theory, to demonstrate that machines can be "racialised", and that this perpetuates "real world" racial biases.

Comment: Anything can be racialized if you look hard enough for it. Similarly, anyone can find something to complain about if they are primed to find it.

This includes work on how robots are seen to have distinct racial identities, with black robots receiving more online abuse, and a study showing that people feel closer to virtual agents when they perceive shared racial identity.

According to the scientists from Cambridge's Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), like other science fiction tropes, AI has long reflected racial thinking.

They pointed to extraterritorial racial stereotypes such as the "orientalised" alien of Ming the Merciless to the Caribbean caricature of Jar Jar Binks.

However, they suggested AI is portrayed as white, because unlike species from other planets, it has attributes used to "justify colonialism and segregation" in the past.

Co-author, Dr Stephen Cave, said most powerful on-screen robots are white or played by white actors, including Terminator, Blade Runner, Metropolis and Ex Machina.

"Androids of metal or plastic are given white features, such as in I, Robot. Even disembodied AI - from HAL 9000 to Samantha in Her - have white voices," he said.

"Only very recently have a few TV shows, such as Westworld, used AI characters with a mix of skin tones."

Lead researcher Dr Kanta Dihal said: "Given that society has, for centuries, promoted the association of intelligence with white Europeans, it is to be expected that when this culture is asked to imagine an intelligent machine, it imagines a white machine.

"People trust AI to make decisions. Cultural depictions foster the idea that AI is less fallible than humans."

She warned that if AI demographics do not diversify, racial inequality will make it harder for non-white people to advance in the technology field.

"In cases where these systems are racialised as white, that could have dangerous consequences for humans that are not," she said.

Dr Dihal concluded: "The perceived whiteness of AI will make it more difficult for people of colour to advance in the field.

"If the developer demographic does not diversify, AI stands to exacerbate racial inequality."