The Rise of #MeTooBots
Tue, April 20, 2021

The Rise of #MeTooBots

#MeTooBots aim to combat sexual harassment in the workplace / Credits: Sundry Photography via Shutterstock

 

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are an everyday reality for most women. Many women experience being harassed in their homes, workplaces, and even in the streets. While international organizations, companies, and advocates are fighting to end this, current efforts aren’t enough to stop men with their predatory moves. Fortunately, artificial intelligence can help. 

Recently, AI programmers at Chicago-based NexLP announced #MeTooBots, which aims to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. According to The Guardian, a daily British newspaper, the bots aim to monitor and flag communications between colleagues. It uses an algorithm trained to identify potential bullying in company documents, emails, and chat. As of now, the bots are being used by more than 50 corporate clients, including law firms in London.

Workplaces in London are a perfect ground for the #MeTooBots to examine because reports show that a third of female lawyers in Britain report having experienced sexual harassment. However, Jay Leib, the chief executive of the Chicago-based AI firm NexLP, stated that other industries can also benefit from it. “There’s a lot of interest from clients across sectors such as financial services, pharmaceuticals,” he said.

The #MeTooBots analyze the data with various indicators such as frequency or timing of communication patterns across weeks and anomalies in the language. While this can be very helpful to root out harassment, these bots’ capabilities are limited. “There’s a type of harassment that is very subtle and very hard to pick up. We have these training courses [about harassment] at Harvard, and it requires the type of understanding that AI is not yet capable of,” Prof. Brian Subirana, a lecturer in AI at Harvard and MIT, said. 

Prof. Subirana added that AI can’t go beyond the parameters that it is only programmed to do because it can only reliably conduct basic story analysis. Thus, it is taught to look for specific triggers and can’t pick up on broader cultural or unique interpersonal dynamics. “We don’t know when AI will break the ‘story understanding’ frontier,” he said.