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The Impact of Men’s Domination of AI and Deepfake Technology

Posted on: February 27, 2024

Violations of Women, Girls, and Democracy in a Digital Age 

Kadri Aavik, David L. Collinson, Matthew Hall, Jeff Hearn, Anika Thym 

In the ever-changing landscape of Artificial Intelligence (AI), discussions frequently revolve around innovation, efficiency, and forward progress. Where concerns about AI are expressed, they tend to focus on the futuristic existential threat of machines taking control of humans. However, amidst the whirlwind of advancements in AI and deepfake technology, there is a crucial part of the story that is often neglected: the overwhelming influence and power of men and masculinities in these spaces, and how this affects the safety of women and girls in the digital world. The dominance of men and masculinities within these organizational structures and ways of organizing is not a new topic, but its relevance remains indisputable and becomes more pressing every day.  

A recent series of events in Spain serves as a startling reminder of the dangers of AI. In 2023, as OpenAI was preparing to announce the release of its new GPT-4 Turbo with vision, and celebrate the reported benefits it would bring (e.g., increased speeds, more recent data, improved data analytics) at their upcoming DevDay Conference, more than twenty girls in Spain reported receiving deepfake explicit images of themselves. Incidents such as this are not uncommon. In fact, a 2020 study by Sensity AI found that 96% of deepfake images were x-rated in nature and 99% of those were of women and girls. These instances showcase exactly why it is crucial to slow down and consider the real-world implications of these tools, especially for those most vulnerable. 

The emergence of AI-driven deepfake technology has provided perpetrators with frightening new avenues for sexual exploitation, violation and abuse. With the help of this new technology, offenders can seamlessly blend and manipulate different visuals and audio clips taken from social media platforms, cameras placed in public, or private, settings, hacked devices, discussion boards, pornography websites, and other online spaces to create lifelike explicit content.  

What is especially alarming is the sheer scale and scope of this phenomenon. Because of this new technology, perpetrators have a nearly limitless capacity to exploit anyone across the globe who has ever been photographed or captured on video. Such malicious content is at risk of being continuously shared, traded, consumed, distributed, and further manipulated by other men participating in these crimes. So, while recent developments in AI tools may be exciting to many, for women and girls in particular, there is a range of current and potential disadvantages and violations. 

Gender scholars point out that what underlies this problem is men, masculinities, and unequal gender-sexual power relations, not least in the work cultures of some transnational tech organizations. The heart of the matter reflects a deeper issue rooted in disproportionate power and the continuing dominance of men and masculinities across societies. This not only perpetuates inequality but also exacerbates the risks faced by women and girls. The ability to wield technology for nefarious purposes underscores broader societal inequalities, wherein many women and girls worldwide are victim-survivors of violence in a landscape shaped by men’s dominance. Furthermore, the anonymity afforded by digital platforms further exacerbates these power differentials, allowing perpetrators to operate with impunity. 

In addition to this gendered violence, AI’s potential to create deepfakes and false narratives can undermine trust and confidence in democratic processes, such as elections, and the trustworthiness of public information. Global political attacks on democratic processes can be fueled by particular masculinities, often transnational in character. It is imperative to recognize that AI itself is not value-neutral or gender-neutral. Its outcomes and capacities reflect the values of its creators and the cultural contexts in which it has been produced and applied. 

AI is modeled according to current cultural and structural realities where several unsustainable ideals of masculinity dominate. AI not only reflects these inequities but also reinforces them. The development of AI has been predominantly driven by affluent Western white men, leading to the reproduction of sexism, gender bias, and racism within AI systems. So, while there is certainly some reason to suggest AI might, in some circumstances, help decrease social inequalities, there is ample room to argue that it is more likely AI will increase them. Therefore, it is not feasible to discuss AI without addressing how certain men and masculinities figure in organizing around AI.  

Indeed, the rapid adoption of AI can be seen as another phase in the development of patriarchal relations – albeit a more technologically complex, abstracted phase, that, with its very large carbon footprint, also brings major negative environmental effects. AI in its current structure acts as a barrier to moving towards a more equitable and sustainable future. However, this fate is not inescapable. Change is possible. It’s time to develop AI in ways that are modelled according to feminist emancipatory principles and promote social justice and care towards human and more than human beings. 

To combat this pervasive threat, implemented regulation is necessary to ensure inclusivity and prevent further harm. Concerted efforts are needed on multiple fronts. Greater awareness and understanding of the risks posed by deepfake technology, particularly among marginalized and vulnerable populations, are essential. Education initiatives aimed at empowering individuals to recognize and report instances of digital exploitation must be prioritized. 

Furthermore, technological solutions must be developed to detect and mitigate the spread of harmful AI content. This entails collaboration between industry stakeholders, policymakers, and advocacy groups to enforce robust safeguards that prioritize user safety and privacy. By challenging embedded powers, norms and stereotypes that perpetuate men’s dominance, we can create a more inclusive and equitable digital landscape where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive free from the threat of exploitation and violence. 

In conclusion, as we navigate the complexities of an increasingly digital world, it is crucially important to confront these challenges head-on and work towards a future where technology serves as a force for empowerment. Only through collective action and a commitment to gender equality can we truly defend the rights and dignity of all people in the digital age. 

Related Reading

Routledge Handbook on Men, Masculinities and Organizations: Theories, Practices and Futures of Organizing

This Handbook provides new theoretical and empirical insights into men, men’s practices and masculinities across many kinds of organizations and forms of organizing. Most mainstream studies of organizations, leadership and management do not seem to notice they are often talking a lot about men and masculinities. The Handbook challenges this general tendency.

Editor(s):  Jeff Hearn, Kadri Aavik, David L. Collinson, Anika Thym
Release Date: November 24, 2023

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