On #ThisisEngineering Day: AI reveals misrepresentation of engineers online

06 November 2019

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On today's first annual This is Engineering Day, the Royal Academy of Engineering & its partners, including leading consumer brands, are joining forces to change the face of engineering, after AI revealed misrepresentation of the profession online – as predominantly white men in hard hats.

Major brands, leading businesses and high-profile engineers have come together in a bid to change the online image search results for the word ‘engineer’, as an AI (artificial intelligence) program trained on the results of an online search for images of engineers found that it vastly misrepresents the profession.

The announcement comes on the 6th November's first annual This is Engineering Day, a new national awareness day that is part of a nationwide campaign led by the Royal Academy of Engineering – and supported by a range of consumer brands and engineering companies – to change the misrepresentation of engineering online and celebrate the unsung contribution that engineers make to our lives. The campaign calls upon media, image providers, recruiters and advertisers to paint a more representative picture of the profession and those who work in it – helping to encourage more young people to consider a career in the profession.

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) employed an artificial intelligence algorithm trained on online image search results for ‘engineer’ to generate artificial images of what it learned a typical engineer looked like – and discovered that the majority of images generated were of white males wearing hard hats.

In response, 100 organisations and counting, including the BBC, Facebook, ITV, Transport for London, Ocado, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Shell UK and National Grid have signed a pledge with the RAE to address the misrepresentation of engineers and engineering online and in popular culture.

Methodology

To test the representation of the profession online, an AI machine learning model, otherwise known as a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), analysed over 1,100 images of engineers sourced online, and generated images based on this given dataset. The images generated by the GAN showed how narrowly an engineer is typically portrayed online: the majority of the generated images were of a white male wearing a hard hat. An online search, conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering on 21 October 2019, found that 63% of images on the first page of the search results were of a person in a hard hat, despite the fact that only a small minority of professional engineers wear hard hats most of the time.

The Generative Adversarial Network was trained by Stylianos Moschoglou, a PhD student in Machine Learning at Imperial College London and Machine Learning Scientist at Facesoft.io.

Researchers at the Royal Academy of Engineering analysed the search engine image results for “engineer” to assess what is being shown as representative images of engineers and engineering. The assessment took place on 21st October 2019 using Chrome extension "Fatkun" to search for the term ‘engineer’ on Google. Accepting that statistically the vast majority (as much as 95%) of online visitors rarely search beyond the first page in Google searches, only the first results page of 452 images was assessed. The results were downloaded to a library and counted manually.  The results revealed most images (63%) featured hard hats.

This is Engineering Day

The Royal Academy of Engineering has created This Is Engineering Day, which takes place on the 6th November in Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, to radically change this narrow stereotype, and celebrate the varied and vital roles that engineers play – from developing medical technologies, like brain scanners, and clean energy solutions, to powering the social media platforms and smartphones we rely on to keep in touch every day.

The pledge

Brands across the UK that depend on engineering – including the BBC, Facebook, ITV, Transport for London, Ocado, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Shell UK and National Grid – have signed a pledge [sign the pledge here: https://bit.ly/2JBv1bj; see pledge signatories here: https://www.raeng.org.uk/education/this-is-engineering/pledge-signatories] to increase the public visibility of more representative images of engineers and engineering, and helped create a new library of free-to-use images of engineers that better represent what engineers and engineering really look like (www.flickr.com/thisisengineering/). This has been developed to encourage website owners and image users to deploy a more diverse range of images when showcasing engineers and the industries in which they work.

The campaign’s partners and supporters will also be challenging this misrepresentation on social media and through a range of different activities and events on This is Engineering Day, including:

•    As well as running engineering-focused tours and STEM (science, technology, engineering & maths) workshops in its fulfilment centres on 6th November, Amazon's Alexa will also answer questions about ‘This is Engineering Day’ and the role of engineers, such as:

    •    ‘Alexa, Tell me about This is Engineering Day?’ 

    •    ‘Alexa, How can I get involved with This is Engineering Day?’

    •    ‘Alexa, When is This is Engineering Day?’

    •    ‘Alexa, What does an engineer look like?’

    •    ‘Alexa, Tell me a fact about engineering’

    •    ‘Alexa, What is This Is Engineering?’

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•    Network Rail will be showcasing real images of engineers on 60 screens across 15 stations in the UK, and across the Virgin train network

•    Facebook and Ocado are creating and promoting new engineering video content featuring its engineers

•    Google is hosting an engineering takeover at its Portsmouth Digital Garage on 6th November

•    Many more are showing their support on social media using the hashtag: #ThisisEngineering

Many of the emerging and in-demand jobs identified by the World Economic Forum (according to its The Future of Jobs Report 2018) are engineering jobs, yet every year the UK is short of up to 59,000 engineers, while only 12% of the engineering workforce in the UK are female, and only 9% are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Research from EngineeringUK (data from its 2019 Engineering Brand Monitor captured in Jan–Feb 2019, based on a sample of 2,514 pupils aged 7-19, 1,023 educators, and 1,810 members of the public) shows that more still needs to be done to raise awareness of engineering careers and encourage young people to consider the profession. Over three quarters (76%) of young people aged 11-19 and 73% of parents do not know much about what those working in engineering do.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, commented: “Engineers play a profoundly important role in shaping the world around us – from designing our cities and transport systems, to delivering clean energy solutions, enhancing cybersecurity and advancing healthcare – but that’s simply not reflected in online image searches.

That’s why on This is Engineering Day, I’m appealing to anyone who uses or promotes images of engineers to join us in challenging outdated and narrow stereotypes of engineering. We want to ensure that engineers are portrayed in a much more representative way, and that we help young people see the fantastic variety of opportunities on offer

Engineering is everywhere, and This Is Engineering Day gives us an opportunity to shine a light on the people who make possible so many features of modern life that we take for granted. I hope that by inviting the public to discover a different side to engineering, we will be able to inspire more people from all parts of society to choose a profession that shapes our world.

The This is Engineering free public image library is available now at www.flickr.com/thisisengineering/ for media, photo, advertising agencies and the general public to view and use in projects, articles, campaigns and on social media. The library and This is Engineering Day are part of the This is Engineering campaign, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering to give more young people, from all backgrounds, the opportunity to take up engineering careers.

How can I get involved?

It’s not too late to get involved. If you’d like to be part of the day, you can:

1    Discover what engineers and engineering really look like by following @ThisisEngineering on Instagram or visiting www.thisisengineering.org.uk

2    Share a supportive message on social media using #ThisisEngineering and #TEWeek19

3    Use the images in our This is Engineering image library: www.flickr.com/thisisengineering

4    Use our This is Engineering films online and offline – at events, on social media, for outreach activities, or in printed materials 

5    Keep an eye out at train stations across the UK for our This is Engineering adverts, which showcase the varied roles that engineers play

6    Ask Alexa, ‘What do engineers look like?’

More information on the campaign can be found at: www.ThisisEngineering.org.uk, @ThisisEng on Twitter and @ThisisEngineering on Instagram.

This is Engineering Day


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