Researching how lonely LGBTIQA+ seniors can use technology to become more social has given Adam Poulsen insight into new ways to help others.
The Charles Sturt University PhD student based in Port Macquarie has contributed to a new article that shines a light on issues of LGBTIQA+ inclusion and potential biases in the development and use of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
The article looks a part of his wider thesis around how technology can be used to help lonely LGBTIQA+ seniors have meaningful connections in the community.
The article, 'Queering Machines', was published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence and co-authored by Mr Poulsen, Dr Eduard Fosch-Villaronga from Leiden University, and Dr Roger Andre Sraa from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Mr Poulsen said discrimination and bias are known to be implicit problems of many AI applications, and the article was written to explore how this impacts the LGBTIQA+ community.
"Understanding how machines affect the LGBTIQA+ community appears largely underexplored in scientific literature, but there is research that shows the perspectives of members in the LGBTIQA+ community were not considered in the design of specific AI applications," Mr Poulsen said.
"We wrote the piece to draw attention to these issues and talk about the importance of including the LGBTIQA+ community in the development of robots and AI to avoid potential discrimination and exacerbation of existing biases.
"If LGBTIQA+ persons continue to be excluded, robot and AI developers won't understand how these technologies may affect the LGBTIQA+ community and it can even hinder their free speech.
"Our article actually references a 2019 study which found this was the case."
According to Mr Poulsen, the 2019 study found that several drag queens' Twitter accounts were being flagged by an AI tool as having high toxicity levels because the tool did not understand the context of the content it was measuring.
"Robotics and AI have the ability to both disempower and empower the LGBTIQA+ community. We need to ensure it empowers," he said.
Mr Poulsen's current PhD study is aiming to help empower LGBTIQA+ seniors by researching how care robots can be programmed to facilitate social interaction and alleviate the loneliness experienced by some in the ageing LGBTIQA+ community.
"My study is about learning first-hand how we can design robots to better meet the needs and values of LGBTIQA+ elders," he said.
"For example, it might be valuable to reprogram an LGBTIQA+ elder's care robot so it doesn't ask if your gender is male or female, because not everyone identifies as one or the other.
"Design considerations like this for robots and AI foster inclusion and provide an innovative advance toward equity for the broader LGBTIQA+ community, particularly for older adults at risk of social isolation and subsequent experiences of loneliness."
He said that after a year of collecting data from 33 participants, 18 from the LGBTIQA+ community and 15 health professionals and LGBTIQA+ advocates he will now spend the next few months analysing the data.
"There is a wealth of research to say that LGBTIQA+ seniors are experiencing loneliness and I have spent the last year interviewing and talking to people about that to understand it better.
"My research is about seeing how robots can be used to assist those seniors in having positive, human connections with others.
"To do that I have been looking for common values and themes which we hope to program into the care robots.
"Reoccuring themes at this point are inclusive language, having diversity in the community, equity and equality, appreciating difference and affirmation of gender."
Mr Poulsen hopes to publish his research and complete his PhD by the end of the year.
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