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In uncovering biases, Black women are America's real AI visionaries | Commentary

Black women have been chronically undervalued. The pattern persists in the realm of AI.

Meka Egwuekwe | Austin American-Statesman

Published 6:56 a.m. CT February 29, 2024

Black American women have been chronically undervalued and overlooked. From the tenacity of Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and activist for Black civil rights and women's rights, to the brilliance of Katherine Johnson, a NASA scientist who played a critical role in the success of the first U.S.- crewed spaceflights, Black women have been the real change-makers in fields as varied as education, science and politics.

This pattern persists in the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The contributions of Black women are revolutionary, yet they remain the unsung heroes.

Consider Timnit Gebru, a courageous AI ethicist who is demanding change in the tech world. Facing down systemic failures, Gebru shines a light on the inherent biases embedded in AI algorithms, particularly those that perpetuate discrimination against marginalized groups.

Gebru’s work uncovers how the biases can lead to unfair outcomes for specific communities in vital sectors such as employment, criminal justice, and more, underscoring the importance of developing AI systems that are equitable and accountable. She pushes the industry to reckon with its responsibility to build fair and equitable AI systems, setting a new standard for what ethical technology can achieve.

Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, isn't content with simply uncovering biases in facial recognition technology; she's dismantling a system that amplifies societal inequities. Through groundbreaking research like Unmasking AI, she exposed how algorithms disproportionately misidentify darker-skinned individuals, potentially leading to discriminatory outcomes in areas like criminal justice and employment.

ChatGPT is an example of generative artificial intelligence, which refers specifically to Al tools that use algorithms to generate outputs and create content. Credit: Olivier Morin, AFP via Getty Images) Olivier Morin

Buolamwini pushes for laws and regulations that ensure AI serves as a tool for good, not a weapon for perpetuating harm.

Ruha Benjamin's explosive book, Race After Technology is a dismantling of technology's role in perpetuating racial injustice. She exposes how seemingly neutral algorithms can encode biases, leading to discriminatory outcomes in areas like criminal justice, education, and employment.

Benjamin delves into the ways technology can inadvertently amplify existing societal biases, examining how algorithms can reinforce inequities in areas like access to resources, employment opportunities, and even legal systems. Her work calls for a reevaluation of how we design and deploy technology to ensure it fosters fairness and justice for everyone. Her critique serves as a call to action, urging us to confront and destroy these insidious digital manifestations of systemic racism.

Nashlie Sephus is rewriting the rules for AI development. Through her work at Amazon and initiatives like the Bean Path, a nonprofit that provides tech education to underrepresented communities, she champions inclusivity and real-world impact.

Sephus recognizes the lack of diversity in tech and its consequences for innovation and fairness. By fostering inclusive spaces like the Bean Path, she ensures diverse voices shape the future of AI. This inclusivity extends to her work at Amazon, where she pushes for responsible AI development that considers the needs and concerns of all.

Recognizing and celebrating the contributions of Black women in AI isn't enough, however. It’s time to follow their lead. These women are shattering expectations, showing us that AI can be a tool for good, a means to right historical wrongs, not perpetuate them.

As AI becomes more entwined in our lives, we need to embrace their visions. Their insights are the key to navigating the ethical minefields of AI. They are, without a doubt, America’s real AI visionaries.

Meka Egwuekwe is Executive Director at CodeCrew, a tech nonprofit that mentors and empowers kids and adults through AI and computer science education..

Check out The Austin American Statesman article here 


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