Royal Academy of Engineering and leading consumer brands join forces to change the face of engineering, after AI reveals misrepresentation of the profession online
- Major brands, leading businesses and high-profile engineers have come together in a bid to change the online image search results for the word ‘engineer’
- Over 100 organisations and counting1 including the BBC, Facebook, ITV, Transport for London, Ocado, Rolls-Royce and National Grid have signed a pledge to address the misrepresentation of engineers and engineering online and in popular culture
- The Royal Academy of Engineering employed an Artificial Intelligence algorithm trained on online image search results for ‘engineer’ to generate artificial images of what it learned a typical engineer looked like – the majority of images generated were of a white man wearing a hard hat
- 6 November is This is Engineering Day – a national awareness day in Tomorrow’s Engineers Week to celebrate the unsung contribution that engineers make to our lives, and to call upon media, image providers, recruiters and advertisers to paint a more representative picture of the profession and those who work in it
- Amazon’s Alexa2 will answer questions about engineering and This is Engineering Day
Major brands, leading businesses and high-profile engineers have come together in a bid to change the online image search results for the word ‘engineer’, as an AI programme trained on the results of an online search for images of engineers found that it vastly misrepresents the profession.
The announcement comes on This is Engineering Day, part of a nationwide campaign led by the Royal Academy of Engineering – and supported by a range of brands and engineering companies – to change the misrepresentation of engineering online, celebrate the contribution of engineers, and encourage more young people to consider a career in the profession.
To test the representation of the profession online, an AI machine learning model, otherwise known as a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), analysed over 1,100 images of engineers sourced online,3 and generated images based on this given dataset. The images generated by the GAN showed how narrowly an engineer is typically portrayed online: the majority of the generated images were of a white male wearing a hard hat. An online search, conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering on 21 October 2019, found that 63% of images on the first page of the search results were of a person in a hard hat4, despite the fact that only a small minority of professional engineers wear hard hats most of the time.
The Royal Academy of Engineering has created This Is Engineering Day, which takes place in Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, to radically change this narrow stereotype, and celebrate the varied and vital roles that engineers play, from developing medical technologies like brain scanners and clean energy solutions, to powering the social media platforms and smartphones we rely on to keep in touch every day.
Over 100 brands across the UK that depend on engineering – including the BBC, Facebook, ITV, Transport for London, Ocado, Rolls-Royce and National Grid – have signed a pledge5 to increase the public visibility of more representative images of engineers and engineering, and helped create a new library of free to use images of engineers that better represent what engineers and engineering really look like (www.flickr.com/thisisengineering/)6. This has been developed to encourage website owners and image users to deploy a more diverse range of images when showcasing engineers and the industries in which they work.
The campaign’s partners and supporters will also be challenging this misrepresentation on social media and through a range of different activities and events on This is Engineering Day including:
- Amazon Alexa2 will answer questions about ‘This is Engineering Day’ and the role of engineers, and Amazon will run engineering-focused tours and STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) workshops in its fulfilment centres on 6th November
- Network Rail showcasing real images of engineers on 60 screens across 15 stations in the UK, and across the Virgin train network
- Facebook and Ocado creating and promoting new engineering video content featuring its engineers
- Google hosting an engineering takeover at its Portsmouth Digital Garage on 6 November
Many of the emerging and in-demand jobs identified by the World Economic Forum7 are engineering jobs, yet every year the UK is short of up to 59,000 engineers, while only 12% of the engineering workforce in the UK are female, and 9% are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Research from EngineeringUK8 shows that more needs to be done to raise awareness of engineering careers and encourage young people to consider the profession. Over three quarters (76%) of young people aged 11-19 and 73% of parents do not know a lot about what those working in engineering do.
Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says:
“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.
That’s why on This is Engineering Day 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.
Engineering is everywhere, and This Is Engineering Day gives us an opportunity to shine a light on the people who make possible so many features of modern life that we take for granted. 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.”
The This is Engineering free public image library is available now at www.flickr.com/thisisengineering/ for media, photo, advertising agencies and the general public to view and use in projects, articles, campaigns and on social media. The library and This is Engineering Day are part of the This is Engineering campaign, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering to give more young people, from all backgrounds, the opportunity to take up engineering careers. More information on the campaign can be found at www.ThisisEngineering.org.uk, @ThisisEng on Twitter and @ThisisEngineering on Instagram.
1 – Brands involved in the campaign include Google, Amazon, Facebook, Ocado, Ferrari, Anglian Water, Heathrow, Network Rail, TfL, Virgin Media, BBC, ITV, EDF Energy, Science Museum Group, as well as the list of corporate partners below, as well as professional engineering institutions and many UK universities.
2 – Amazon’s Alexa, will answer the below engineering and This is Engineering Day questions:
- ‘Alexa, Tell me about This is Engineering Day?’
- ‘Alexa, How can I get involved with This is Engineering Day?’
- ‘Alexa, When is This is Engineering Day?’
- ‘Alexa, What does an engineer look like?’
- ‘Alexa, Tell me a fact about engineering’
- ‘Alexa, What is This Is Engineering?’
3 – The Generative Adversarial Network was trained by Stylianos Moschoglou, a PhD student in Machine Learning at Imperial College London and Machine Learning Scientist at Facesoft.io. Due to the GAN image being too low res and pixilated for print purposes, a digital artist has retouched the image, without changing the likeness.
4 – Researchers at the Royal Academy of Engineering analysed the search engine image results for “engineer” to assess what is being shown as representative images of engineers and engineering. The assessment took place on 21st October 2019 using Chrome extension “Fatkun” to search for the term ‘engineer’ on Google. Accepting that statistically the vast majority (as much as 95%) of online visitors rarely search beyond the first page in Google searches, only the first results page of 452 images was assessed. The results were downloaded to a library and counted manually. The results revealed most images (63%) featured hard hats.
5 – Please click here to see the pledge – https://bit.ly/2JBv1bj
6 – The new public photo library, which has been contributed to by some of the biggest brands in the world, will be sent to stock image providers, website owners, media, advertisers, and recruiters to encourage them to use these real images of engineers to help increase visibility around the profession – www.flickr.com/thisisengineering/
7 – The Future of Jobs Report 2018, World Economic Forum http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2018.pdf. Please see notes to eds for more information.
8 – Research carried out by EngineeringUK. Data from the 2019 Engineering Brand Monitor captured in Jan – Feb 2019, based on a sample of 2,514 pupils aged 7-19, 1,023 educators, and 1,810 members of the public
About This is Engineering
About This is Engineering
This is Engineering is a campaign to raise awareness of the breadth of careers in engineering and help address the significant engineering skills and diversity shortfall that is holding back growth and productivity across the UK economy. The campaign aims to give more young people, from the broadest possible backgrounds, the opportunity to take up an exciting, engaging, rewarding and in demand career.
This is Engineering is led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, in collaboration with EngineeringUK. The campaign has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering and our corporate partners. More information about the campaign is available at www.thisisengineering.org.uk and @ThisIsEng on Twitter
Founding Principal partners
Principal university partners
Major university partners
About the Royal Academy of Engineering
As the UK’s national academy for engineering and technology, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers from academia and business – our Fellows – to advance and promote excellence in engineering for the benefit of society.
We harness their experience and expertise to provide independent advice to government, to deliver programmes that help exceptional engineering researchers and innovators realise their potential, to engage the public with engineering and to provide leadership for the profession.
We have three strategic priorities:
- Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation and businesses
- Address the engineering skills and diversity challenge
- Position engineering at the heart of society
We bring together engineers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics, educators and the public in pursuit of these goals.
Engineering is a global profession, so we work with partners across the world to advance engineering’s contribution to society on an international, as well as a national scale.
EngineeringUK is a not-for-profit organisation, which works in partnership with the engineering community to inspire tomorrow’s engineers and increase the talent pipeline into engineering. EngineeringUK leads engagement programmes The Big Bang and Tomorrow’s Engineers, creates inspiring engineering careers resources and produces a body of research including the flagship State of Engineering report.
About Tomorrow’s Engineers Week
Tomorrow’s Engineers Week (#TEWeek19) takes place from 4-8 November 2019 and aims to change perceptions of engineering among young people, their parents and teachers and to inspire future engineers. Tomorrow’s Engineers Week is led by EngineeringUK, a not-for-profit organisation which works with the engineering community – employers and professional institutions – to inspire tomorrow’s engineers. To find out how to get involved, visit www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/teweek
This is Engineering is a campaign to raise awareness of the breadth of careers in engineering and help address the significant engineering skills and diversity shortfall that is holding back growth and productivity across the UK economy. The campaign aims to give more young people, from the broadest possible backgrounds, the opportunity to take up an exciting, engaging, rewarding and in demand career.0