Here is my prerecorded talk for the NC State R.L. Rabb Symposium on Embedding AI in Society.
There are captions in the video already, but I’ve also gone ahead and C/P’d the SRT text here, as well.
There were also two things I meant to mention, but failed to in the video:
1) The history of facial recognition and carceral surveillance being used against Black and Brown communities ties into work from Lundy Braun, Melissa N Stein, Seiberth et al., and myself on the medicalization and datafication of Black bodies without their consent, down through history. (Cf. Me, here: Fitting the description: historical and sociotechnical elements of facial recognition and anti-black surveillance”.)
2) Not only does GPT-3 fail to write about humanities-oriented topics with respect, it still can’t write about ISLAM AT ALL without writing in connotations of violence and hatred.
Also I somehow forgot to describe the slide with my email address and this website? What the hell Damien.
I’ve embedded the content of the resource slides in the transcript, but those are by no means all of the resources on this, just the most pertinent.
All of that begins below the cut.
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Hello, my name is Damien Williams.
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I’m a PhD candidate at Virginia Tech’s department of Science, Technology, and Society, and my talk today is called “Why AI Research Needs Disabled and Marginalized Perspectives.”
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One of the things that I want to make clear at first is that when I talk about AI today, I’m talking about things like algorithmic systems, machine learning,
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systemic institutionalized solutions, support systems, not so much talking about things that we think of as, “strong AI,” or “artificial general intelligence”—
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what I like to think of as “autonomous generative intelligences.”
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That being said, everything that I’m going to say is exponentially more important in the considerations of strong AI,
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even over and above what its importance is for the considerations within algorithmic systems.
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All that being said, before we talk about why it is that we need disabled and marginalized perspectives in AI research,
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we have to talk about what perspectives are currently embedded in AI research.
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And when we take a look at the raft of AI research today, we find that there are a whole host of things that get included and assumed to be true.
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And those assumptions, those values embodied by those assumptions, get embedded within the research that gets done,
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and within the AI products that get put out into the world and with which we all must live.
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Those perspectives can be capitalist, thinking about profit motive, thinking about the bottom line,
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as in the case of certain AI healthcare systems, or insurance systems, which will put— in many cases *have* put—
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the bottom line of the insurance company as more important than the life or health of a patient, because that’s what has been trained to do;
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it’s been trained to make sure that the premiums and payouts of the insurance company are as low as possible, regardless of what that takes.
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But you can also see that in the cases of things like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits,
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the algorithms that run those systems, as showcased in the works of Virginia Eubanks, in her Automating Inequality,
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in which cases— people who are already at the lower socioeconomic status are made more subject to systems that will keep them in poverty,
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rather than being able to be elevated out of poverty because of the kinds of assumptions about their life
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and what kinds of needs they have and the payouts of the systems that they depend on, get embedded in the systems.
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We find disableist perspectives embedded in these systems.
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Systems about disability payouts, or even systems about machine vision that tries to monitor how people cross the street—
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automated vehicles that don’t see people in wheelchairs, or people using crutches, *as* pedestrians, and so doesn’t categorize those people for safety
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in the same way as it would someone walking on upright on two legs. Right?
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But then there’s disability benefit systems which make decisions, determinations about the kind of help and health care that people need to live.
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These systems are often opaque and they’re trained on datasets which are, in many cases,
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filled with assumptions about what the right kind of way to live is about what the right kind of healthcare is.
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Assumptions that, in many cases, hark back to the 1800s; y’know, assumptions about institutionalization of disabled people.
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These things persist today and are in many cases blackboxed,
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because disabled people have not been consulted in the administration of these things, let alone in their construction.
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You can see this the work of people like Karen Hao, asking “Can we ever make an AI that isn’t ableist?”
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You can see this in the work of Alexandra Reeve-Givens with the Future Tense article whose headline you can see here, “How Algorithmic Bias Hurts People With Disabilities.”
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And in Lydia X. Z. Brown and their work at the Center for Democracy and Technology,
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which looks at benefits determinations, algorithmic systems’ benefits determinations for disabled individuals.
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This report just came out last year, it’s really quite in depth and fantastic.
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We find that racist bias, racial perspectives are embedded in AI and algorithmic systems, all the time.
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Facial recognition systems famously don’t see Black people anywhere near as well as white people.
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People with darker skin tones, in many cases, simple facial recognition systems like blink detection systems on Nikon cameras
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will ask whether people of Asian descent have blinked when they’re merely smiling.
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These kinds of things are, you know, old biases that get embedded into new systems
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because the new systems are encoded on the old assumptions that animate the technologies on which the new systems are based.
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Photographic technology was never really designed to see black people very well, and so when digital technology kind of updated it,
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it took the same principles and just mapped them onto a digital space.
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Facial recognition systems that are meant to categorize individuals who are breaking the law are often trained on mugshots;
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mugshot databases are notoriously overpopulated with Black and brown individuals, because black and brown individuals are *assumed* to be criminal.
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And so those individuals populate mugshot databases more often, and so those systems have more of those faces in them,
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and so you get cases where like, 28 members of Congress (top right, or sorry, top left picture),
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28 members of Congress were falsely matched to mugshot databases.
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You can see this in multiple different works from the ACLU, from ProPublica, a number of different places.
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The GIF on the top right is from the HP face tracking camera scandal from 2009,
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when it was shown that HBS face tracking camera did not track the faces of black people.
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In that GIF, a Black man, a computer store employee, is saying, “I’m Black, I think my blackness is interfering with the computer’s ability to follow me.”
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And at the bottom [of this slide] you have a six, two by three grid, six grid of white women in various clothes, lighter skinned women in various clothes.
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This is the model of what’s known as the Shirley Car, and this comes from Kodak, right?
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This is, the Shirley Card was a white woman named Shirley, and if you could see Shirley’s face, regardless of what she was wearing,
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or what background she was standing in front of, the image was properly balanced.
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This is the industry standard on which photography was based and continued to be modeled, even into the development of digital camera technologies.
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The same goes for carceral surveillance, carceral systems of justice, which use surveillance systems, facial recognition systems,
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predictive policing, which says, “certain groups of people are more likely to be criminal,
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you place those cameras there, you do predictive modeling based on your criminal metrics, based on the data that it’s trained on,”
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when that data is notoriously filled with over populations of Black and brown individuals, minority communities,
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those systems will be trained to think of those communities *as criminal*, first and foremost.
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If you then deploy those systems, they will make the same kind of racialized judgments, as previously were made by human beings.
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You can see this in the work of Clare Garvie and others at Georgetown, their work “The Perpetual Line-Up,” from 2016,
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and the deployment of facial recognition and surveillance systems in various communities of color throughout the United States and England.
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Institutional bias is a perspective that gets encoded not just in the surveillance state,
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but in the judgments made about people who are then made subject to justice systems in the West,
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wherein algorithmic bail setting and sentencing recommendation systems will make recommendations that say that a Black man with no priors and a lower likelihood of recidivism—
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based on the system itself’s own judgments, based on its own estimations—
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a Black man with no priors, lower likelihood of recidivism is recommended a lower likelihood of bail,
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and a higher, more harsh sentence than a white man with priors and a higher likelihood of recidivism.
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ProPublica’s investigation of this in 2016 showed how this system was at play in Broward County—
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this is the Compas bail-setting and sentencing recommendation guidelines—
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and this, again, is based on what it’s trained on: the behavior of human beings trains these algorithmic AI systems
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and the systems then replicate and iterate on that behavior exacerbating these outcomes.
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Then you have all of the above.
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On this page, you have a host of different headlines:
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“It’s Our Fault That AI Thinks That White Names Are More ‘Pleasant’ Than Black Names.”
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Next headline reads, “Health Care Algorithm Offered Less Care to Black Patients.”
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Next one reads, “AI scraps,” or, sorry, “Amazon Scraps Secret AI Recruiting Tool That Showed Bias Against Women.”
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In the lower right corner you’ve got a GIF of a graph, modeling the Word2Vec software
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where certain correlations are made along gendered lines between words like “King” and “Man,” “Queen” and “Woman.”
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Within the same study, Caliskan et al., in 2017, you’ll see that there’s correlations made between “CEO” and “man,”
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“secretary” and “woman,” “doctor” and “man,” “nurse” and “woman,” “President” and “man,” that kind of thing.
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This gendered bias gets encoded in Word2Vec systems, but it has also persisted in GPT-3 systems in a kind of even more nuanced and systemic way,
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where whole hosts of disciplines that GPT-3 gets trained on— to kind of mimic those writing styles—
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it will cast whole disciplines as meaningless or inadequate or frivolous,
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as it did with philosophy when it was tasked to write a philosophy paper.
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Things on the horizon include the NeuraLink AI system, the Amazon Halo, benefits determination systems are going to increase their proliferation,
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including things like COVID determinations, who gets what shots when, who gets what treatments in what scenarios, those kinds of things.
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NeuraLink AI is the brain chip interface from Elon Musk, and Co.
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Amazon Halo is meant to be a kind of full-suite biometric reader, where it tells your heart rate, tells your perspiration,
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it tells your blood-ox. level, tells, y’know, how much water you need.
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But it also is meant to do things like tell you what your tone is, in conversations, and whether you might want to modulate your tone.
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Now, one of the things that’s always been true in the United States is that things like a Black woman’s tone are often up to scrutiny.
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Black people are more harshly judged on the whole as to their comportment in social situations,
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and black women’s tones, in particular, are often policed, for how they interact with each other
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and comport themselves in conversation— often told that they’re being overly agitated or angry.
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Now, if the Amazon Halo is trained on general human interactions— or what it’s programmers and designers think of as “General human interaction”—
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the hosts of assumptions about what kind of tone is the “right kind” of tone to strike in conversation is *inherently* cultural,
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and if the culture of the people who design and program this tool, don’t take into account the kind of inherent biases that there are
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towards certain types of comportment, expression, lived experience, and behavior, those things will then replicate in terms of
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the Amazon Halo suggesting to Black people that, “hey, maybe you want to calm down,” when they’re just having a normal conversation.
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Instantiating the microaggression of the “angry black man” or “angry black woman” into a systemic, culture-wide device that everyone has monitoring their speech at all times.
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So what does all this mean?
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This is a meme that I made. [Laughs] It’s Zoidberg from the show ‘Futurama,’ sitting in a opera house and tuxedo, and he’s yelling,
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“Your AI and Algorithmic Facial Recognition Applications Are Bad, and You Should Feel Bad!”
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All of these tools, replicate and instantiate the lived experiences and the perspectives and the assumptions the people who program them.
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They instantiate and iterate upon the assumptions and the values of the people who have commissioned them, who have programmed them, who have trained them,
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and all of the interactions that these systems have when they’re out in the world form components of the data on which it learns how to be
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and how to do what it is meant to do in the world.
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So what this means is that what we have to do here is ensure that there is no work done in these realms, without the perspectives of marginalized individuals
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being not just tokenisticly “included,” not just polled and mined for perspectives or, or opinions about the way that these systems come to be,
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but actively engaged and put at the forefront of the conversations we have and the development we do around AI and algorithmic systems.
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This isn’t the first time we’ve had these kinds of conversations.
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These conversations have been at play throughout the history of technology and science.
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And we can see it in the lives and the lived experiences and the contributions of many different people.
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This page is a raft of seven different pictures.
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We have at the top left an image of Dr. Ruha Benjamin, whose work on algorithmic justice and the nature of carceral surveillance
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and certain types of abolitionist perspectives regarding AI and facial recognition systems
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has said that, ultimately, certain things maybe just shouldn’t be developed, because there’s no just way to develop them in the world.
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The work that is just kind of fundamental to this idea that some things are just impossible to do in a way that is without real, lasting meaningful harm.
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Next we have Wendy Carlos, the trans woman whose work is at the forefront of all electronic music,
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who was instrumental in developing the tools to translate music into an electronic format.
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Next, going to the right we have Dr. Ashley Shew, whose work on technology and disability,
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on the lives of disabled people and how they interface with their technologies on a day to day basis,
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is doing real kind of long-lasting investigations into what is available to the disabled community versus what the disabled community,
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and members of the disabled community individually, say that they need from technologies that they need to live their lives.
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Below Dr. Shew’s image we have the image of Dr. Alondra Nelson, who is now the social science coordinator for the Office of Science Technology Research for the White House, under Joe Biden’s
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Her work is crucial in thinking about the ways that social implications of Science and Technology need to be interrogated and understood,
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thought about at the outset, rather than as an after the fact, kind of post hoc consideration.
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Next, going to the left, we have Dr. Anna Lauren Hoffman. Anna Lauren Hoffman’s work focuses on the ways that technology and gender collide,
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and specifically, one of the things that Dr. Hoffman is talking about is this notion of “data violence” and the ways that perspectives on trans lived experience,
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transgender individuals’ experience with technology in the world, is kind of predicated upon other people’s assumptions about what a transgender lived experience ought to be.
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You see this in everything from just day-to-day life to things like TSA body scanners, and the kinds of assumptions that get made by the
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human individuals at work, there, but also the algorithmic systems at work, there.
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And then next to Dr. Hoffman, we have Katherine Johnson, whose work on the Apollo Project got human beings to the moon,
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who was famously almost completely excluded from being able to work in that space because of her race.
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In the center of all of this we have seven members of the team who are known as the Gallaudet 11.
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This is a team of Deaf individuals who were brought in by NASA to test the effects of weightlessness and disorientation on individuals who didn’t have inner ear concerns.
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For those of you who don’t know, Gallaudet University is a Deaf university in Washington, DC, and all of the students there are Deaf or hard of hearing.
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So the Gallaudet 11, were eleven Deaf and Hard of Hearing men, whose experiences with the inner ear were drastically different than individuals who hear “normally.”
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And as a result, they were, according to NASA, prime subjects, for being able to (sorry about that), being able to you know, test these notions.
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You know, ask the question about, “what kind of life in space, in weightlessness— what kind of disorientation might human beings suffer?”
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There has never been a Deaf astronaut.
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Deaf people have been used to train astronauts, data from Deaf individuals has been used to train astronauts, but there has never been a Deaf astronaut.
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At the very end of all of this, this question of why AI research needs disabled and marginalized perspectives,
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comes down to this notion of “whose perspectives, whose lived experiences animate the technology that we make, and to which we are all made subject?”
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As AI research increases its reach and its depth and its breadth and its power, we need to be ensuring that the perspectives, the values that get encoded into these systems,
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are values and perspectives that will not just, again, post hoc accommodate or repair or seek to “include” in a tokenistic manner, the experiences of marginalized individuals,
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but take those perspectives into account at the outset. Because those perspectives have something to teach us that is otherwise inaccessible to us.
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We have to ensure that the perspectives and lived experiences of marginalized people are heeded in this conversation
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about the design and implementation of algorithmic applications, even and perhaps *especially* when those perspectives make us uncomfortable.
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The perspectives and lived experiential knowledge of women, disabled people, trans and gender non conforming individuals,
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Black people, Indigenous people, other marginalized identities are, in large part, informed by being made subject to
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the worst excesses of technology, up to and including AI.
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Putting them at the forefront of our conversations about AI may require us to radically rethink our founding assumptions about what AI and automation are for.
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But for millions of people, doing this will very literally mean the difference between life and death.
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I have here a whole host of resources, papers, videos, articles, I highly recommend taking them, spending some time with them,
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and thinking about the ways that we animate our conversations about this.
- Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004.
- “Amazon’s Face Recognition Falsely Matched 28 Members of Congress With Mugshots.” Jacob Snow, Technology & Civil Liberties Attorney, ACLU of Northern California. July 26, 2018. https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/amazons-face-recognition-falsely-matched-28.
- aoun, sarah; Ahmed, Nasma. “Don’t Include Us, Thank You” (2018) https://livestream.com/internetsociety/ttw18/videos/174091941.
- Benjamin, Ruha. 2019. Race after technology: Abolitionist tools for the new Jim code. Cambridge: Polity.
- Bennett, Cynthia L., Keyes, Os. “What is the Point of Fairness? Disability, AI and The Complexity of Justice.” 2019. https://org/abs/1908.01024
- Braun, Lundy Breathing Race into the Machine: the Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. doi:10.5749/minnesota/9780816683574.001.0001.
- Brown, Lydia X. Z., Michelle Richardson, Ridhi Shetty, Andrew Crawford. “Report: Challenging the Use of Algorithm-driven Decision-making in Benefits Determinations Affecting People with Disabilities.” Center For Democracy and Technology. October 2020. https://cdt.org/insights/report-challenging-the-use-of-algorithm-driven-decision-making-in-benefits-determinations-affecting-people-with-disabilities/.
- Browne, Simone. Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015)
- Buolamwini, Joy, and Timnit Gebru. “Gender shades: Intersectional accuracy disparities in commercial gender classification.” In Conference on fairness, accountability and transparency, pp. 77-91. 2018.
- Caliskan, Aylin; Bryson, Joanna J.; Narayanan, Arvind. “Semantics Derived Automatically From Language Corpora Contain Human-Like Biases.” 14 Apr 2017 : 183-186. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6334/183.full.
- Cave, Stephen, and Kanta Dihal. “The Whiteness of AI.” Philosophy & Technology4 (2020): 685-703. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-020-00415-6.
- del Barco, Mandalit. “How Kodak’s Shirley Cards Set Photography’s Skin-Tone Standard.” November 13, 2014. NPR https://www.npr.org/2014/11/13/363517842/for-decades-kodak-s-shirley-cards-set-photography-s-skin-tone-standard.
- Eubanks, Virginia. Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. New York, NY : St. Martin’s Press, 2018.
- Farivar, Cyrus. “Central Londoners to be subjected to facial recognition test this week.” Ars Technica. December 17, 2018. https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/12/londons-police-will-be-testing-facial-recognition-in-public-for-2-days/
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00:20:52,800 –> 00:21:05,790
Who is in the room when we make these decisions? Who is driving these questions that we ask? And who is shaping the answers that we give?
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Not just at the end of the day, but at the very beginning of the day.
00:21:14,190 –> 00:21:15,210
Thank you very much.
00:21:16,080 –> 00:21:23,550
This is where you can find me online. This is my email. If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them at the end.
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