Black in A.I.

The Black in AI workshop at this year’s NIPS conference could be among the most important events in artificial intelligence this year.

Why? If you think the AI in your phone, car, or bathroom is free of racist or sexist biases, then respectfully give this op-ed by mathematician Cathy O’Neil a close read and begin educating yourself.

Further, the societal threat posed by systems capable of intentionally exploiting racial fears and prejudice should be evident by now.

Developing AI that is free of the gender, racial and other prejudices that continue to mar our society is an immense task and as many have pointed out, there is no one algorithm or tool that will get us there. One part of the solution is opening up the field to scientists, developers, and thinkers from all backgrounds so that norms of oppression and exclusion are questioned and ultimately ushered into the museum.

In that sense, the Black in AI workshop is an important contribution. The stated goal of the workshop is to provide a forum to nurture and develop researchers who are Black — thus promoting the inclusivity of a field that shamefully homogenous.

Does this mean that the inclusion of Black people in AI will spell the end of racist AI? Probably not, but clearly the near exclusion of Black folk has given biased systems a free pass. Perhaps a Black AI researcher might be more inclined to raise concerns about algorithmic bias in facial training sets , or even design commercial facial recognition systems with ethnic diversity baked in. But more importantly, a Black blogger, professor, lecturer, developer might foster important shifts in the way their readers, students, and customers view the world. That has to be a step forward for humanity.

 

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