Artificial Intelligence has been accused of being inaccurate and a tool for racial profiling. The technology seems to have been a gatekeeper that prevents the marginalized from getting jobs or advancement in the workplace, perpetuating their biases. It is believed that the algorithms have had a significant impact on racial diversity and gender diversity.
One female-founded Toronto start up in the beauty and fashion industries are betting on AI to make the future fairer. Roya Sedigh and Amanda Cosco, co-founders of Halt AI, both have backgrounds in fashion and technology. They found that they were constantly auditing algorithms for bias.
We talked to Cosco about Halt AI’s latest launch, The Diversity Analytics Dashboard. This dashboard provides detailed analytics on over 500 fashion brands, influencers and retailers.
Cosco says that most stories about AI are filled with cyborg doom, gloom, and scary stories, especially regarding facial recognition. “But, if AI can be used for good to increase diversity then that’s a pushback to the doom-and-gloom narrative.”
They discovered that brands were measuring their diversity from a hiring perspective, but they were neglecting the marketing and original content. So they used their technology to give brands a glimpse of how their social media and marketing looked from the outside. This attracted brands’ attention. Cosco explains that brands were seeking contextual information such as how they compare to other brands’ efforts. “If they scored 7/10 on race, that’s great!”
It was this that prompted the creation of a benchmark to help companies evaluate their performance, not only with their peers but also within the industry. It measures six dimensions of diversity – race and age, gender, body type, skin tone, and disability – for every brand’s Visual Content.
Halt AI has received grants from both the Canadian government and angel investment. Its current clients include Fortune 500 companies. Because both beauty and fashion have a high impact on women, the founders started with them. Cosco says that the technology is ready for expansion into other industries. It’s all about building the brand image right now.
There are a few content auditing services that exist already, like the Geena Davis Institute, which tracks gender representations in media and entertainment. Cosco claims they are costly, not scalable, and full of human error. “What makes Halt different is our accuracy rate of more than 90 percent, and our ability to process entire industries in a matter of weeks.
Luxury fashion is still lacking representation of disability and racial groups
The Halt AI data, which is only one year old, quickly showed that luxury fashion is overwhelmingly white and young. There is little representation of disability in the industry, and although there is some diversity in terms racial makeup, most people are light-skinned. Cosco says that companies made many promises after the George Floyd murder and that there was a lot more attention to the community. But the next spotlight will be on the disability community. “Athletic brands such as Nike do very well in terms diversity, whereas Chanel and the other usual suspects don’t have much diversity.”
Halt Ai does not involve finger-wagging. They provide quantitive analysis to companies so that they can make marketing decisions. Cosco believes that brands are left with a lot of blind spots because they lack insight.
Cosco can only speak about clients she knows, but she has noticed some patterns. She says that brands are often surprised at the lack of representation, especially in disability. It’s likely something they don’t consider. “We are trying to create for their analysis so they can track changes over time to better understand, but also helping them understand their place within the larger industry. We have found it useful to tell them where they stand within the tenth or ninetieth percentile.”
A pilot program that was developed for a sub-brand within a large beauty brand proved so successful that it is being implemented internally to all brands. Cosco believes that the technology will soon be a B2B2C tool. However, it is currently a B2B product.
Cosco says, “We want to be the global standard in measuring diversity across all industries so that we can offer a seal of approval, a threshold that is acceptable for advertising.” “Right now, there is really nothing like it.”