Coded Bias is Directed by Shalini Kantayya, the documentary begins with Joy Buolamwini’s realization as an MIT student that facial-recognition technology had a harder time identifying certain types of faces — like her own dark-skinned female one — and follows her down the rabbit hole to examine the serious consequences of that seemingly minor annoyance.
Kantayya delves into the very human biases baked into artificial intelligence by its largely white and male creators, and the problems that ensue when these black-box programs are assumed to be neutral: the violations of civil rights, the discriminatory decisions in hiring, housing, and criminal justice. Far from creating a more level playing field through impartial judgment, Coded Bias argues, AI has the potential to exacerbate existing inequalities.
Notably, Coded Bias is built around exactly the kinds of people disadvantaged by these AI issues.
Notably, the film is built around exactly the kinds of people disadvantaged by these issues. Almost all of the experts interviewed in the movie are women, including Weapons of Math Destruction author Cathy O’Neil (who also appears in The Social Dilemma), Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo, and futurist Amy Webb. We meet tenants of a housing project about to install facial-recognition software, and a beloved teacher who’s been fired after an algorithm deemed his performance poor, and a young woman navigating China’s state-run Social Credit System.
Through them, bias in AI becomes a concrete, human concern, rather than an abstract possibility. And through them, it becomes an issue to rally around. Without shying away from the issue’s enormity of its devastating consequences, Coded Bias gradually works toward an almost inspirational vibe, as Buolamwini and others get to work solving the problem they’ve identified.
We’re invited to share in her triumph when she gets the opportunity to testify before the House that “algorithmic justice one of the biggest civil rights concerns we have,” or Carlo’s when she teams with British politician Jenny Jones to bring a legal challenge against the London PD’s use of facial recognition cameras.
These victories prove essential in reminding us that something can be done. Not in the vague “somebody should do something” sense, but in the more concrete way of pressuring governments to pass laws regulating the use of algorithms, or calling out corporations using faulty AI to unjust ends. Hang on to the can-do spirit those little wins engender — as both Coded Bias and The Social Dilemma will tell you, we’ll need it to take on the massive amount of work still left to be done.
Director and Cast of Coded Bais
Joy Buolamwini is a poet of code who uses art and research to illuminate the social implications of artificial intelligence. She founded the Algorithmic Justice League to fight the coded gaze – harmful bias in artificial intelligence. A Ph.D. candidate at the MIT Media Lab, she pioneered techniques that are now leading to increased transparency in the use of facial analysis technology globally. She established the Safe Face Pledge in partnership with the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law to prevent lethal use and mitigate abuse of facial analysis technology. More than 230 articles in over 37 countries have been written about her Gender Shades thesis work that uncovered large accuracy disparities in commercial AI services.
Data journalist Meredith Broussard is an assistant professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University and the author of “Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World.” She is an affiliate faculty member at the Moore Sloan Data Science Environment at the NYU Center for Data Science, a 2019 Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow. She has also worked as a software developer at AT&T Bell Labs and the MIT Media Lab.
Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble is an Associate Professor at UCLA in the Departments of Information Studies and African American Studies. She is the author of a best-selling book on racist and sexist algorithmic bias in commercial search engines, entitled Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press). She is quoted for her expertise on issues of algorithmic discrimination and technology bias by international press including The Guardian, the BBC, CNN International, USA Today, Wired, Time, and The New York Times.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, is monitoring the trial use of facial recognition technology by the UK police. Prior to Big Brother Watch, she was the Senior Advocacy Officer at Liberty where she led a program on Technology and Human Rights and launched a legal challenge to the Investigatory Powers Act. She previously worked for Edward Snowden’s official defense fund and whistleblowers at risk. She has worked to uphold rights in the fields of state surveillance, policing technologies, big data, artificial intelligence and free expression online. She is the co-author of Information Security for Journalists.
Virginia Eubanks is Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and author of Automating Inequality. She joined the Department in 2004 after completing her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Eubanks teaches courses in public policy, research methodology, and feminist science and technology studies. She is currently engaged in a four-year National Science Foundation-funded research project exploring the effects of welfare administration technologies on clients and frontline caseworkers in New York State
Ravi Naik, the Law Society’s 2018 Human Rights Lawyer of the Year, is a multi-award winning Partner, with a groundbreaking practice at the forefront of data rights and technology. These include the first case against Cambridge Analytica for political profiling, claims against Facebook for their data practices, challenges to financial blacklisting, through to numerous precedent-setting judicial reviews. Ravi also regularly provides commentary in the media on a range of issues, including the Guardian, CNN, the Daily Mail, the BBC, WIRED, and The Telegraph
Cathy O’Neil is an American mathematician and the author of the blog mathbabe.org. In 2016, her book Weapons of Math Destruction was published and long-listed for the National Book Award for Nonfiction. O’Neil attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University in 1999, and afterward held positions in the mathematics departments of MIT and Barnard College, doing research in arithmetic algebraic geometry.
Dr. Zeynep Tufekci is an Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) and a regular contributor to the New York Times op-ed section and Wired. She has an affiliate appointment with the UNC Department of Sociology and is a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. She is the author of Twitter and Teargas. Originally from Turkey, and formerly a computer programmer, she is also increasingly known for her work on “big data” and algorithmic decision-making.
Director/Producer Shalini Kantayya’s feature documentary, Coded Bias, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. She directed an episode of the National Geographic television series Breakthrough, Executive Produced by Ron Howard, broadcast globally in 2017. Her debut feature film Catching the Sun, premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Catching the Sun released globally on Netflix on Earth Day 2016 with Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio, and was nominated for the Environmental Media Association Award for Best Documentary.
Kantayya is a TED Fellow, a William J. Fulbright Scholar, and a finalist for the ABC Disney DGA Directing Program. She is an Associate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.