Can robots be racist? Are hyperintelligent super-robots really threatening humanity? Do black people even have access to these resources?

Unfortunately, in the short legacy of technology titans that have shaped the world of software and technology as we know it, African Americans have largely been marginalized from this space. Because of this, we are often unaware of the transformative innovations that are taking place on the west coast, in places like San Francisco and Silicon Valley. While historically, we haven’t quite demanded inclusion into the tech space, educating ourselves on the technology of the future is now necessary to our survival.

Latanya Sweeney, an African American Professor of Government and Technology, in Residence at Harvard University, often writes and talks about how to effectively harmonize artificial intelligence with society. In a time where AI is often defined by its benefits, alongside flowery language, she is a prophetic voice that consistently warns of the potential for artificial intelligence to have a disproportionately negative effect on communities of color—in every aspect of society as we know it.

Professor Sweeney conducted an experiment, where she simply typed her name, Latanya, into Google, to explore what Google’s AI powered search engine would capture from the internet. It’s no secret that Latanya is a noticeably black name, so she decided to compare it to the more generic name of Tanya. She found that each time she would type her name in, advertisements at the top of the page would show arrest records and background checks, despite the fact she had never been arrested. She tried the same for Tanya but the arrest record advertisements didn’t show. So, she typed in another generally Black name, Ebony. The arrest records displayed at the top again. She conducted this experiment for over 10,000 names, and found that the arrest record advertisement showed up over 80 percent of the time for names that were more often given to black babies than to white babies. 

This Sweeney conducted this seemingly small and mundane experiment for one reason: to show that technology, specifically artificial intelligence, is not as objective as it is often portrayed to be. It harbors the discriminatory biases of the people, the data and the code which creates it.

Can you imagine though, if a mere AI powered Google search is infected with the prejudice imperfections of its human creators, what about when hyperintelligent AI are walking the streets alongside us? Or when the police militarize AI are inserted into drones that patrol African American neighborhoods? The Chicago Police Department has already been using AI, by testing predictive analytics with criminal activity.

I think it’s extremely important, more important now than ever in human history, that black people, and people of color, really educate ourselves on, and invest in the future. Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, big data, hyper surveillance...it’s all coming whether we like it or not. The only option we really have is to prepare ourselves. Elon Musk, Professor Latanya Sweeney—these are truly revolutionary and prophetic thinkers that understand the potential impacts that technology can, and will, have on our society in the future, and the urgent need for increased regulation, democratization and equity in how that technology is controlled and used. 

Have you looked into AI, AR, VR, and have any additional insight? We would love to hear it! Let us know in the comments below.