Artificial Intelligence — Black Lives Matter Too!
Last year, I followed in Beyonce’s footsteps and had my own ‘Homecoming’. Brixton Tate Library welcomed me into a packed venue to participate in DeRay McKeeson’s book launch. The book is entitled, ‘On The Other Side of Freedom’ — Race and Justice in a Divided America.
Five years ago, DeRay quit working as a school teacher. He moved to Ferguson to become one of the effective leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Since then Time Magazine has named him as one of the ’30 Most Important People on the Internet. Also, DeRay has been recognised as one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s, 100 Global Thinkers. Lastly, he is one of the 10 people Beyonce follows on Twitter.
Back in 2013, when the campaign started, its premise ignited my own first memories of Black civil rights and liberties. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th 1968, the same day as my Dad’s birthday. From that day, I experienced one of my many life changing moments. My Dad politicized me by taking me nearly every Sunday, to Speakers’ Corner. This rites of passage started when I was 4 years old. And I imbibed this style of first class political education until I was 12. Listening to DeRay’s insights highlighted again how very little has changed regarding the structural racial inequities that maintain societal divisions.
Technology is transforming our global landscape and has a paradigm that potentially embeds similar irregularities and disparities. A key difference between these two frameworks is that the rules and laws of society are created, implemented and sanctioned by governments. So to a certain extent, external accountability is built in.
Conversely, in the technological arena they are designed by a handful of very wealthy, private individuals and companies. They largely operate in unregulated environments with very few if any pathways inviting critique and scrutiny. In turn, when it comes to service and product design, the creators will be guided by their own myopic frame of reference. And without conscious inclusive practices that takes account of the diversity within global citizenry, biases will run amok.
A range of the new technologies including, The Internet of Things, 4D Printing, and Drones, are powered by Artificial Intelligence. A.I. is heavily dependent on data. So, in the field of facial recognition, machines look at the world through the lens of code. They do this by deconstructing pixels taken from cameras. The machine learning process develops data sets that guide the machine to detect new faces. There will be an inherent problem if there is a lack of racial diversity in the training sets. Consequently, systems will struggle to include and accommodate the wide spectrum of Black and Brown people.
The problem is intensified because code directories for this type of technology are shared extensively. This means that visually driven products and services share the same code. I have experienced the impact of this reality, in some public toilets. I’ve noticed on a couple of occasions that I haven’t been able to wash my hands thoroughly. For example, when I put my hands with my palms facing upwards, water flows freely from the tap. However, when I turn my hands over, the water shuts off.
To overcome this type of problem, technologists must start paying attention to what happens in other industries. For example, the fantastic musical and production of Hamilton, has built an inclusive methodology that’s effective and profitable. Technologists might learn a thing or two by adopting Aaron Burr’s frame of reference, when he sings about being, ‘In the room where it happens’. This may help technologists to stand in the shoes of future clients and users who don’t look like them. And then go onto ask, ‘if these people were in the room where our creations happen, what would they expect from us?’
One certainty is, it’s time for technologists, tacticians and strategists to build heterogeneous data sets.
If you are a proactive decision maker who wants to engage in finding solutions, then drop me an email at, firstname.lastname@example.org.