Algorithms and the data that drive them are designed and created by people, which means those systems can carry biases based on who builds them and how they’re ultimately deployed. Safiya Umoja Noble, author of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, offers a curated reading list exploring how technology can replicate and reinforce racist and sexist beliefs, how that bias can affect everything from health outcomes to financial credit to criminal justice, and why data discrimination is a major 21st century challenge.
My first encounter with racism in search was in 2009 when I was talking to a friend who causally mentioned one day, “You should see what happens when you Google ‘black girls.’” I did and was stunned. (An excerpt from Algorithms of Oppression.)
Technology from Amazon, Apple, Google, IBM and Microsoft misidentified 35 percent of words from people who were black. White people fared much better.
Algorithms used by hospitals and physicians to guide the health care given to tens of millions of Americans are shot through with implicit racism that their creators are often unaware of, according to a study.
From the way search engines reinforce racism to how digital culture has reshaped the way Black identity is expressed.
A conversation about the underlying systems of power, privilege, and oppression as they relate to present-day conversations about algorithms.
From everyday apps to complex algorithms, technology has the potential to hide, speed, and even deepen discrimination, while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to racist practices of a previous era.
The increasingly precise segmentation and targeting of commercial messages has been enabled in large part through the analysis of massive amounts of transaction-generated-information.
It is important to examine the digital manifestations of misogynoir – or what it means to be a Woman of Color existing in the hegemonic spaces of digital technology. But our conceptual frameworks fail to capture the everyday practices that Women of Color exhibit online.
About the curator
Safiya Umoja Noble is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the Department of Information Studies, where she serves as the Co-Director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry. She is the author of a best-selling book on racist and sexist algorithmic bias in commercial search engines, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press).
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