Topics: African Americans, African Studies, Futurism, Sociology
Technology is not unbiased, according to a scholar investigating the phenomenon of technological racism. As people recognize the embedded biases within technology, the growing and multifaceted tech justice movement is working to counter these biases, added the scholar.
Ruha Benjamin, a sociologist and professor of African American studies at Princeton University whose work explores the social dimensions of science, technology and medicine, spoke during the “Race to the Future? Values and Vision in the Design of Technology and Society” webinar hosted on Aug. 13 by the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion program. DoSER facilitates dialogue between scientific and religious communities by hosting symposia and lectures on topics at the interface of science, ethics, and religion; training and supporting scientists on engagement with faith communities; and helping seminaries integrate science into their core curricula.
Webinar viewers were invited to consider which prejudices and values are incorporated into technologies such as search engines and AI algorithms, and to identify methods to dismantle technological racism.
Technology is often spoken about as if it were a force separate from human influence, Benjamin said. Yet “human beings are behind the screen: our values, our ideologies, our biases and assumptions.”
Benjamin also pointed out that the biases extend beyond individuals to the systems as a whole and the historical data inputted into the machines. Much in the way that racism exists in legal, educational and health systems, it also becomes codified in computer systems, she said. For instance, searching for images of “professional hairstyles” and “unprofessional hairstyles” on Google brings up results that equate naturally Black hair with a lack of professionalism – search results that echo real-life biases, she said.
Technology’s Built-In Machine Bias Reflects Racism, Scholar Says, Andrea Korte, AAAS