Some entertaining issues related to diversity

a.k.a. "why we should care:"

From the Comp Sci dept WIMS mentor:

  • "In terms of design teams and designing products, there's evidence from other industries that if you have just a male team, you could have a flawed product. Let's look at air bags, for example. Only 8 percent of mechanical engineers are female, and most of the teams working on air bags were predominantly male. When air bags were invented based on the male body as the norm, they ended up being potentially deadly to women and children. That's also happened with heart valves and voice-recognition systems; they were geared toward the male." (J. Margolis, in an interview at Of course, a similar concern holds for teams with no minority representation.
  • Is there something in the genetic makeup of women and minorities that explains the lack of interest? Not likely. This was the argument that used to be made for why so few chose science, medicine, law, etc. decades ago. But these fields have made an effort to address some of the barriers to women and minorities and, as a result, their percentages have increased.

Separately, from Gizmodo via the Interesting People mailing list:

This is awkward. It appears that HP's new webcams, which have facial-
tracking software, can't recognize black faces, as evidenced in the
above video. HP has responded:

We are working with our partners to learn more. The technology we
use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in
intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We
believe that the camera might have difficulty "seeing" contrast in
conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting.

HP Face-Tracking Webcams Don't Recognize Black People - Hp - Gizmodo (21 December 2009)

What would you want to bet that that development team had only white people on it?


Legacy Comments

Posted by George Crews on 2009-12-27 at 09:10.

J. Margolis in an interview claims that air bags were "invented based
on the male body as the norm"? ROFL.    The idea that mechanical
engineers (regardless of sex) in the automotive field would design (a
better word than invent) a high-consequence device for universal
application without a comprehensive risk assessment is ludicrous.
The design criteria for air bags won't involve norms -- but extremes.
Too heavy or large a person and the bag's expansion may not be
forceful enough or cover enough area to prevent death or injury
resulting from the accident. Too light or small a person and the bag's
expansion itself will do more damage than the accident would have. The
compromise rests on a risk assessment. Evidently, J. Margolis thinks
that this assessment's outcome **must** be influenced by the sex of
the analyst and peers.    Browse's pediatrics section and
you will find: "An inflating passenger air bag can kill a baby in a
rear-facing safety seat. An air bag also can be hazardous for children
age 12 and under who ride facing forward. This is especially true if
they are not properly buckled up in a safety seat, booster seat, or
lap and shoulder belt."     This sad fact is the result of a
compromise based on risk assessment. The J. Margolis' solution is to
have mechanical engineers who are children. ROFL.

Posted by Titus Brown on 2009-12-27 at 12:37.

Or, perhaps, the women engineers might have assessed the risks

Posted by George Crews on 2009-12-28 at 21:28.

Hi Titus,    Perhaps I was not clear. Air bags were NOT "invented
based on the male body as the norm." Period. (I point out why it is
ludicrous to even think they were.) So the entire line of reasoning is
based on an example that is false.    So I would also hope that "women
engineers might have assessed the risks differently." The male
certainly engineers did.    But if this example is flawed, can better
examples be found for endorsing "gender-diverse" engineering? Sure.
But only when we keep firmly in mind that engineering is partly art
and partly science. To say the art part of engineering is affected by
gender is one thing. But to say the scientific part is also affected
is quite another.    IMHO, the art part of engineering (creativity,
architecture, management, computer programming, etc.) does suffer from
a lack of cultural and gender diversity. However, the scientific part
(math, physics, chemistry, computer algorithms, etc.) does not. (In
fact, it MUST not. Otherwise, science loses its objectivity.)
Therefore, I think I could show examples where risk management
benefits from diversity. However, diversity itself neither benefits
nor harms risk assessments.    George

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