This past summer The New York Times published an article entitled, Artificial Intelligences White Guy Problem, written by Kate Crawford. Crawford is a principal researcher at Microsoft and co-chairwoman of a White House symposium on society and A.I.
The courageous opinion piece eloquently notes that the domination of white guys in the technology sector — especially in Artificial Intelligence — is leading post-industrial society into a skewed world that is not improving society.
Instead, she writes, the sector is extending and exacerbating cultural and historical prejudices, interpretations, world views and chasms of misunderstanding. Unfortunately, new technologies like AI have a sort of halo effect that seems to make them and the companies that produce them immune from social review and comment.
Crawfords is one of the first to explicitly address the insular perspective the technology monoculture is foisting on the world.
One of the ways the unilateral application of new technologies can exacerbate — not mend — social tensions was recently seen in the extraordinary misstep of Geofeedia. Based in Chicago, Geofeedia aggregates social media feeds of individuals and groups based on their location. The service permits them to track movements and listen in on the tweets, live streams, friending and whatnot of individuals in their sights.
At the beginning of October 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a report on how police departments around the country had hired Geofeedia services to track participants in Black Live Matter protests.
According to an article in The Daily Dot, Police records reviewed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) show that officers in Northern California have used Geofeedia to collect information on citizens who used the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #PoliceBrutality.
The ACLU report highlighted the police forces of Chicago, Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore as particularly enthusiastic users of the Geofeedia service. Authorities in the cities tracked the social media communications and locations of #BlackLivesMater protesters.
What makes the surveillance service particularly galling is that police forces in at least Baltimore and Ferguson are known to have targeted the black communities to purposely stop, fine and often incarcerate black residents specifically to extract funds and line their departmental coffers.
Geofeedias white guy problem was that its corporate monoculture neither observed nor had stakeholders on staff who could appreciate or advise on the conflicts of interest or the infringement on civil rights.
Quite possibly, if their staffing had been more diverse and inclusive of contrasting viewpoints, the company’s management would have at least considered the implications of the technology on non-white citizens. Instead, with neither a face nor a voice in the company to represent the varied composition of the country, they stepped on the social equivalent of a land mine. One they themselves planted, in fact.
Candidates of color and minorities need to keep this case in mind as they canvas companies for employment. Companies — especially in technology — need you.
If they haven’t figured that out, they don’t deserve you.