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Women’s Future in a World of AI: Maternity and Motherhood

By Alexandra Whittington

 

Across the life stages, from girlhood to golden years, where are there the richest opportunities for AI to enhance women’s lives in the future?

As AI becomes a normal aspect of the future of business, it raises several key uncertainties with regard to advancing gender equality into the future: will laws be universally enforced so that women and men earn equal pay for equal work, even in the face of automation? Will women’s access to maternity benefits such as paid leave and job security ever reach the level needed to ensure high quality of family life for working women, even when most jobs are replaced by robots? Can women break into STEM fields in the needed numbers to fill a coming talent gap in the tech industry? Do women in “pink collar” industries like nursing, admin roles and teaching stand to be displaced by robots? Will the “feminine” skills, like caregiving and nurturing human development, suit the jobs of the future? Above all, how will we ensure the survival of the feminine in a world of artificial intelligence?

What is the future of women with AI in business, home and society? Viewed against the framework of women’s universal life stages, from girlhood to golden years, there seem to be several potential opportunities for AI to enhance the lives of women in the close to mid-term future.

For example, motherhood. The central role of AI to future caregiving is a well-established image—robotic nurses, doctors and home care providers for the elderly have already infiltrated some homes and hospitals, especially in nations with worker shortages. IBM’s Watson is also highly engaged in the healthcare plans for the future. It’s conceivable that such intelligent machines may serve to help women in their roles as mothers and caregivers.

First of all, is there a role for medical AI to help women manage their fertility and childbearing decisions? Personalized gynecological and obstetric care from an AI doctor could put much greater control in the hands of women in terms of reproduction. Given AI’s strong predictive capacities, could women use AI to plan or avoid pregnancy? Tracking and monitoring of women’s cycles could put pharmaceutical and medical contraception providers out of business. A birth control app using AI to track women’s cycles has already been approved by the FDA.

If a woman should choose to get pregnant, there could be numerous algorithms which support the physical and emotional experiences women tend to have during the childbearing year—there could be dietary, exercise and mental health advice provided as part of an AI prenatal program. In the days following the birth, an AI nurse could be an invaluable form of monitoring for danger signs in terms of physical and mental states. Baby care AI systems could be a great source of information for new mothers and help prevent tragic experiences with post-partum depression by monitoring hormones and nutrition. It could also be invaluable in allowing sick babies to stay out of nurseries and raise the family’s comfort levels if NICU care can be replicated at home.

As the child grows, AI’s involvement in healthcare could allow mothers to exercise more involvement in their children’s medical treatments. Monitoring symptoms, tracking medication schedules and avoiding germs might become a way for women to use AI to care for kids, or for other relatives in their home. Avoiding unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office would be the benefit of in-home AI doctors, while time spent checking in for appointments or waiting for physicians could be reduced—it’s possible that the next generation of children will be vaccinated and examined by human doctors and nurses, while an AI assistant looks on to verify that all safety measures are taken and that no ethical violations occur. Surgery and other routine procedures could also be performed by robots—this would free up doctors to conference with parents and assure them that all the treatments are being implemented as planned. AI could also be helpful in terms of providing the information and support parents need to care for sick children, filling the role wise grandmothers once had.

Women may find it easier to be single mothers with the aid of an AI parenting assistant. Family structures could move away from being headed by two parents—in fact, women could choose to outsource childcare to smart machines and feel much more confident than they do with dads, daycare facilities or mothers-in-laws. An AI babysitter would be completely transparent and controllable, whereas human caregivers can easily impose their own opinions of childrearing on their charges. However, there would be a great deal of caution to be exercised, since psychologists still have yet to pierce the nurture vs. nature debate—can human beings thrive in the company of a non-human caregiver? The rise of AI in childcare may eventually help get at the answer to this enduring question about human development.

 

Alexandra Whittington is a futurist, writer, Foresight Director of Fast Future, and a faculty member on the Futures program at the University of Houston. She has a particular expertise in future visioning and scenario planning. Alexandra is a contributor to The Future of Business and the recently published Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity and The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. She is also a co-editor and contributor for forthcoming books on Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business, and 50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.

 

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