In Depth

Amazon axes ‘sexist’ AI recruiting tool

Program was reportedly biased against women

Amazon has reportedly scrapped a recruitment tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that showed a clear bias against women. 

Company insiders told Reuters that the program had been in development since 2014 as a means of streamlining the recruitment process. 

“Everyone wanted this holy grail”, one of the sources said. The system was designed to sift through 100 job applications and “spit out” the top five results.

The machine gave each applicant a rating out of five, “much like shoppers rate products on Amazon”, says the news site. 

The AI was trained to use a method known as machine learning. This allowed researchers to feed the program old CVs from the past ten years to use as reference material so the AI could accurately grade real-life job applications, the BBC says. 

But the data submitted came primarily from former male applicants, meaning the “sexist” AI taught itself that “male candidates were preferable”, the broadcaster reports. 

The bias was discovered in 2015 when recruiters found that the AI system wasn’t rating applicants in a gender-neutral way. The program was penalising CVs with the word “women” in them, putting female applicants who had studied at women’s colleges, for example, or written “women’s chess club captain” in their list of achievements at a disadvantage. 

Programmers subsequently amended the system to remove the bias but this was not a complete success, according to Fortune. The AI was abandoned last year.

Amazon declined to comment on the technology, but said the tool “was never used by Amazon recruiters to evaluate candidates.” 

Has the AI hindered female job applicants?

Amazon insiders insist it hasn’t.

Speaking to The Sun, Amazon sources said the retail giant “never based recruitment decisions on the tool's ratings alone”, but recruiters did examine the AI’s recommendations when sifting through applications.

This isn’t the first time an AI programme has been shown to favour men over women.

Facebook came under fire last month after it emerged that AI systems had been preventing women from seeing certain job advertisements, the newspaper says.

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