Tekla Perry writes: Historian Marie Hicks, speaking at the Computer History Museum talks how women computer operators and programmers were driven out of the industry, gives examples of sexual harassment dating back to the days of the Colossus era, and previews her next research. “It’s a matter of power, Hicks pointed out — and women have never had their share of it,” reports IEEE Spectrum. “Women dominated computer programming in its early days because the field wasn’t seen as a career, just a something someone could do without a lot of training and would do for only a short period of time. Computer had no room for advancement, so having women ‘retire’ in their 20s was not seen as a bad thing. And since women, of course, could never supervise men, Hicks said, women who were good at ended up training the men who ended up as their managers. But when it became clear that computers — and computer work — were important, women were suddenly pushed out of the field.”

Hicks has also started looking at the bias baked into algorithms, specifically at when it first crossed from human to computer. The first example she turned up had “something to do with transgender people and the government’s main pension computer.” She says that when humans were in the loop, petitions to change gender on national insurance cards generally went through, but when the computer came in, the system was “specifically designed to no longer accommodate them, instead, to literally cause an error code to kick out of the processing chain any of a ‘known transsexual.'”


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