An AI algorithm trained to create an image of an engineer shows why it’s time to change the perception of what an engineer does.
What does the average engineer look like? The internet depicts a narrow image.
Commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering, Imperial College London PhD student Stylianos Moschoglou recently developed an algorithm to test the representation of engineers online.
He said the AI machine learning model, which analysed more than 1100 images of engineers and generated images based on the dataset, depicted the ‘average engineer’ as “a white man wearing a hard hat”.
This might not come as a surprise, given that just 12 per cent of the engineering workforce in the UK is female, and only 9 per cent are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. However, the Royal Academy of Engineering said these images reinforce the deeply rooted cultural perceptions of engineering as narrow, mechanical, too technical and dull.
Compounding these limited perceptions is research by EngineeringUK that found more than 75 per cent of young people aged 11 to 19 and 73 per cent of parents know little about what an engineer actually does.
Changing the image
To address the misrepresentation of engineers and the profession online and in popular culture, brands including the BBC, Facebook, ITV, Transport for London, Ocado, BAE Systems, BP, National Grid, Rolls-Royce and Shell UK signed a pledge and helped create a new library of free-to-use images that better represent what engineers and engineering really looks like.
Some of the images available in the free-to-use photo library:
The library is available for media and the general public to view and use in projects, articles and campaigns, with the aim of changing the perception of engineering, and encouraging young people from all backgrounds to take up engineering careers.
“Engineers play a profoundly important role in shaping the world around us – from designing our cities and transport systems, to delivering clean energy solutions, enhancing cybersecurity and advancing healthcare – but that’s simply not reflected in online image searches,” Royal Academy of Engineering CEO Dr Hayaatun Sillem said.
“I’m appealing to anyone who uses or promotes images of engineers to join us in challenging outdated and narrow stereotypes of engineering. We want to ensure that engineers are portrayed in a much more representative way, and that we help young people see the fantastic variety of opportunities on offer.
“I hope that by inviting the public to discover a different side to engineering, we will be able to inspire more people from all parts of society to choose a profession that shapes our world.”