Moojan Asghari: Why Google Translate is Sexist

March 15 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Robots are the Future

When El Machina came out five years ago, critics called it a sleek and spooky version of Frankenstein. It spins a story about how, simply put, a robot can be more cognizant and perilous than we first assume. The story is supposed to be freaky—and it is—because the idea of robots taking over our home, our world, is terrifying, right? But here’s what got me: The humans in the movie are scary, too. Whether artificial intelligence or real skin and bones, we have so many opportunities to choose the wicked side; to listen to the cartoon devil on our shoulder. What would happen, though, if we chose what’s best for the world around us, rather than what only suits ourselves?


Did you know 5 percent of Americans date robots? (Jk, jk. Just had to make sure you snapped out of the creepy thinking). But back to robots, who are definitely not interested in swiping left. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a growing avenue of research. You know when you say, “Hey, Alexa!” or ask Siri a question? That’s AI. That Tesla that’s on your vision board? Also AI. So it’s important to know that only 12 percent of leading machine learning researchers in the field of AI are women.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Moojan Asghari, Hacking House Project Manager at SIGFOX

Speaking of women in AI, Moojan Asghari is a project manager at SIGFOX, a global connectivity provider. She describes herself as “passionate” and inspired by what technology can give us: a better quality of life.

One of the most defining moments in Moojan’s STEM career was at her first hackathon, an event in which a big group participates in computer programming over the course of a few days. So, why was it so much fun for Moojan? She says that with a goal and a deadline, plenty of untapped creativity can emerge. Over the course of a mere 54 hours, Moojan learned new skills and discovered an inner strength she didn’t know existed. It’s this kind of energetic learning environment that’s led Moojan to SIGFOX.

Through a project called Hacking House at SIGFOX, Moojan helps ideas funnel through a path toward a solution. Engineering and business students, corporate groups, developers and startups all have a chance to work under the same roof for a full summer. It’s 100 days to work on IoT, a system of interrelated computing devices. I imagine it’s like old school Real World, except with less binge drinking and fist fights.

Part of the reason why AI has a woman problem is because it can be hella intimidating to get started, especially if you haven’t set foot in a traditional classroom and anticipate everyone else has. Moojan was helping a couple friends organize a hackathon when she saw the gender gap clearly: Of more than 80 people who participated, only 4 were women.

So Moojan collaborated with a fellow lady AI expert and started a Facebook group for Women in AI. From there, it grew into a nonprofit with more than a thousand members across more than 60 countries. The lack of women in AI can greatly affect how the field helps or hurts women. Take this example: A Google Translate from English to Turkish and vice versa exposes that a feminine pronoun is used for the word “babysitter” and a male pronoun is used for “doctor.” Ugh.

It ain’t easy being the only woman in a room filled with dudes, but thanks to Moojan, that might not be the case for very long.


One of the greatest track and field athletes of all time, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, said:

“If I stop to kick every barking dog I am not going to get where I’m going.”

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