For about a year now I have been obsessed with the stock photographs that accompany tech stories, especially news stories about automation and robots.
You probably know or have seen the images I am talking about. They usually picture a human hand reaching out and shaking hands with a robot or imparting the “spark of life” by touching index fingers -- an obvious reference to the “Creation of Adam” that is pictured in Michelangelo’s painting for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
These images are meant to illustrate the future potential of human/robot interaction and cooperation. And they are by now a rather tired cliché. But that is not what concerns me. What concerns me is the identity of the human who is pictured in these photographs. With little or no exception, the human hand is almost always Caucasian and obviously male.
Now I know what you are thinking: “These are just stock photos; it’s not a big deal.” But it is a big deal. The tech sector is routinely criticized for its lack of diversity in both its work force and its outlook. And educators at all levels struggle to open up the STEM disciplines to a wider demographic.
If we truly want a future that is inclusive and evenly distributed, we need to begin imagining and imaging that future now. That means paying attention to the way that we visualize that future in the seemingly mundane images that are used to explain and talk about these matters.
I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my Perspective.