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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T023767/1
Title: Designing Conversational Assistants to Reduce Gender Bias
Principal Investigator: reiser, Professor V
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
BBC Equate Scotland Google
The Scottish Parliament
Department: S of Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 June 2020 Ends: 31 May 2023 Value (£): 461,903
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Artificial Intelligence Computational Linguistics
Human-Computer Interactions
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies
Related Grants:
EP/T024771/1 EP/T023783/1
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
10 Feb 2020 Responsible NLP for Intelligent Interfaces Panel 2020 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Biased technology disadvantages certain groups of society, e.g. based on their race or gender. Recently, biased machine learning has received increased attention. Here, we address a different type of bias which is not learnt from data, but encoded during the design process. We illustrate this problem on the example of Conversational Assistants, such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, or Google's Assistant, which are predominately modelled as young, submissive women. According to UNESCO, this bears the risk of reinforcing gender stereotypes.

In this proposal, we will explore this claim via psychological studies on how conversational gendering (expressed through voice, content and style) influences human behaviour in both online and offline interactions. Based on the insights gained, we will establish a principled framework for designing and developing alternative conversational personas which are less likely to perpetuate bias. A persona can be viewed as a composite of elements of identity (background facts or user profile), language behaviour, and interaction style. This framework will include state-of-the-art data-efficient NLP deep learning tools for generating dialogue responses which are consistent with a given persona. The persona parameters can be specified by non-expert users in order to to facilitate more inclusive design, as well as to enable a wider critical discussion.
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Organisation Website: http://www.hw.ac.uk