Robotics journal cover draws accusations of stereotyping women

January 09, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The cover design for an academic journal prompted a wave of criticism on Twitter over what was perceived as discrimination against women.

An illustration of a female robot adorned the cover of the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence to introduce a basic cover redesign. The robot, dragging a cable connected to her back, looks at the reader with a book in her right hand and a broom in her left.

The design came under heavy fire on social networking site Twitter as soon as it went public.

"It's too horrible. A gynoid robot cleaning with hollow eyes," tweeted Sputniko!, a contemporary artist and an assistant professor with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

"I thought an academic society journal cover featuring a gynoid robot doing housework represented a lack of sensitivity to the international awareness of gender issues," Sputniko! told The Asahi Shimbun. "A black cleaning robot featured on the cover of a U.S. academic journal would cause an uproar. The same applies here."

But other tweeters said the protesters are being overly sensitive.

"If you are to create an android, the prettier the better," one of them said.

"The whole stuff remains on the level of personal desires," said another.

Founded in 1986, the JSAI has a membership of about 3,000 people. The bimonthly journal, distributed to its members, is also available at some bookshops.

A preface to the January issue of the JSAI journal said the redesign embodies a resolve to send a message to society. It said the cover illustration for that issue represents a concept of "artificial intelligence in everyday life" and carries a message that cleaning robots are no exception.

Yutaka Matsuo, a University of Tokyo associate professor who heads the editorial board for the journal, said the JSAI had posted an online call for cover illustrations. The work in question, drawn by a female illustrator, obtained by far the largest number of votes from JSAI members and nonmembers among the 100 entries submitted.

The illustration was also the top choice of the 30-member JSAI editorial board, which has three female members. It was second choice with the 20-member JSAI board of directors, which has one female member.

Hideyuki Hirakawa, a professor of science and technology studies at Osaka University, said the cover illustration was inappropriate for a scientific journal, although it would have been OK for a fanzine.

"An academic society journal is required to be more public in nature," Hirakawa said. "That is because an academic society provides a organizational platform for experts to think about the impact of their research on the outside world."

(This article was written by Shiho Tomioka and Jun Takaku.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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The cover of the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence (From the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence website)

The cover of the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence (From the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence website)

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  • The cover of the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence (From the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence website)

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