Whitewashing call centre workers’ accents

Silicon Valley strikes again, with yet another techno-solutionist idea. Sanas, a speech technology startup founded by three former Stanford students, aims to alter the accents of call centre workers situated in countries such as India and the Philippines. The goal is to make them sound white and American. With a slide of a button, a call centre’s voice will be transformed into a slightly robotic, and unmistakeably white, American voice.

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AI-trained robots bring algorithmic biases into robotics

A recent study in robotics has drawn attention from news media such as The Washington Post and VICE. In this study, researchers programmed virtual robots with popular artificial intelligence algorithms. Then, these robots were asked to scan blocks containing pictures of people’s faces and make decisions to put some blocks into a virtual “box” according to an open-ended instruction. In the experiments, researchers quickly found out that these robots repeatedly picked women and people of color to be put in the “box” when they were asked to respond to words such as “criminal”, “homemaker”, and “janitor”. The behaviors of these robots showed that sexist and racist baises coded in AI algorithms have leaked into the field of robotics.

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Racist Technology in Action: How hiring tools can be sexist and racist

One of the classic examples of how AI systems can reinforce social injustice is Amazon’s A.I. hiring tool. In 2014, Amazon built an ´A.I. powered´ tool to assess resumes and recommend the top candidates that would go on to be interviewed. However, the tool turned out to be very biased, systematically preferring men over women.

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Dutch student files complaint with the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights about the use of racist software by her university

During the pandemic, Dutch student Robin Pocornie had to do her exams with a light pointing straight at her face. Her fellow students who were White didn’t have to do that. Her university’s surveillance software discriminated her, and that is why she has filed a complaint (read the full complaint in Dutch) with the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights.

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Meta forced to change its advertisement algorithm to address algorithmic discrimination

In his New York Times article, Mike Isaac describes how Meta is implementing a new system to automatically check whether the housing, employment and credit ads it hosts are shown to people equally. This is a move following a 111,054 US dollar fine the US Justice Department has issued Meta because its ad systems have been shown to discriminate its users by, amongst other things, excluding black people from seeing certain housing ads in predominately white neighbourhoods. This is the outcome of a long process, which we have written about previously.

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Exploited and silenced: Meta’s Black whistleblower in Nairobi

In 2019, a Facebook content moderator in Nairobi, Daniel Motaung, who was paid USD 2.20 per hour, was fired. He was working for one of Meta’s largest outsourcing partners in Africa, Sama, which brands itself as an “ethical AI” outsourcing company, and is headquartered in California. Motaung led a unionisation attempt with more than 100 colleagues, fighting for better wages and working conditions.

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Racist Technology in Action: Turning a Black person, White

An example of racial bias in machine learning strikes again, this time by a program called PULSE, as reported by The Verge. Input a low resolution image of Barack Obama – or another person of colour such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez or Lucy Liu – and the resulting AI-generated output of a high resolution image, is distinctively a white person.

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Racist Techology in Action: Beauty is in the eye of the AI

Where people’s notion of beauty is often steeped in cultural preferences or plain prejudice, the objectivity of an AI-system would surely allow it to access a more universal conception of beauty – or so thought the developers of Beauty.AI. Alex Zhavoronkov, who consulted in the development of the Beaut.AI-system, described the dystopian motivation behind the system clearly: “Humans are generally biased and there needs to be a robot to provide an impartial opinion. Beauty.AI is the first step in a much larger story, in which a mobile app trained to evaluate perception of human appearance will evolve into a caring personal assistant to help users look their best and retain their youthful looks.”

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The Dutch government wants to continue to spy on activists’ social media

Investigative journalism of the NRC brought to light that the Dutch NCTV (the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security) uses fake social media accounts to track Dutch activists. The agency also targets activists working in the social justice or anti-discrimination space and tracks their work, sentiments and movements through their social media accounts. This is a clear example of how digital communication allows governments to intensify their surveillance and criminalisation of political opinions outside the mainstream.

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Silencing Black women in tech journalism

In this op-ed, Sydette Harry unpacks how the tech sector, particularly tech journalism, has largely failed to meaningfully listen and account for the experiences of Black women, a group that most often bears the brunt of the harmful and racist effects of technological “innovations”. While the role of tech journalism is supposedly to hold the tech industry accountable through access and insight, it has repeatedly failed to include Black people in their reporting, neither by hiring Black writers nor by addressing them seriously as an audience. Rather, their experiences and culture are often co-opted, silenced, unreported, and pushed out of newsrooms.

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Don’t miss this 4-part journalism series on ‘AI Colonialism’

The MIT Technology Review has written a four-part series on how the impact of AI is “repeating the patterns of colonial history.” The Review is careful not to directly compare the current situation with the colonialist capturing of land, extraction of resources, and exploitation of people. Yet, they clearly show that AI does further enrich the wealthy at the tremendous expense of the poor.

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Exploitative labour is central to the infrastructure of AI

In this piece, Julian Posada writes about a family of five in Venezuela, who synchronise their routines so that there will always be two people at the computer working for a crowdsourcing platform to make a living. They earn a few cents per task in a cryptocurrency and are only allowed to cash out once they’ve made at least the equivalent of USD 10. On average they earn about USD 20 per week, but their earnings can be erratic, resulting in extreme stress and precarity.

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Inventing language to avoid algorithmic censorship

Platforms like Tiktok, Twitch and Instagram use algorithmic filters to automatically block certain posts on the basis of the language they use. The Washington Post shows how this has created ‘algospeak’, a whole new vocabulary. So instead of ‘dead’ users write ‘unalive’, they use ‘SA’ instead of ‘sexual assault’, and write ‘spicy eggplant’ rather than ‘vibrator’.

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Racism and technology in the Dutch municipal elections

Last week in the Netherlands all focus was on the municipal elections. Last Wednesday, the city councils were chosen that will govern for the next four years. The elections this year were mainly characterised by a historical low turnout and the traditional overall wins for local parties. However, the focus of the Racism and Technology Center is, of course, on whether the new municipal councils and governments will put issues on the intersection of social justice and technology on the agenda.

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Disinformation and anti-Blackness

In this issue of Logic, issue editor, J. Khadijah Abdurahman and André Brock Jr., associate professor of Black Digital Studies at Georgia Institute of Technology and the author of Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures converse about the history of disinformation from reconstruction to the present, and discuss “the unholy trinity of whiteness, modernity, and capitalism”.

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Centering social injustice, de-centering tech

The Racism and Technology Center organised a panel titled Centering social injustice, de-centering tech: The case of the Dutch child benefits scandal and beyond at Privacy Camp 2022, a conference that brings together digital rights advocates, activists, academics and policymakers. Together with Merel Koning (Amnesty International), Nadia Benaissa (Bits of Freedom) and Sanne Stevens (Justice, Equity and Technology Table), the discussion used the Dutch child benefits scandal as an example to highlight issues of deeply rooted racism and discrimination in the public sector. The fixation on algorithms and automated decision-making systems tends to obscure these fundamental problems. Often, the use of technology by governments functions to normalise and rationalise existing racist and classist practices.

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Bits of Freedom speaks to the Dutch Senate on discriminatory algorithms

In an official parliamentary investigative committee, the Dutch Senate is investigating how new regulation or law-making processes can help combat discrimination in the Netherlands. The focus of the investigative committee is on four broad domains: labour market, education, social security and policing. As a part of these wide investigative efforts the senate is hearing from a range of experts and civil society organisations. Most notably, one contribution stands out from the perspective of racist technology: Nadia Benaissa from Bits of Freedom highlighted the dangers of predictive policing and other uses of automated systems in law enforcement.

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Racist Technology in Action: “Race-neutral” traffic cameras have a racially disparate impact

Traffic cameras that are used to automatically hand out speeding tickets don’t look at the colour of the person driving the speeding car. Yet, ProPublica has convincingly shown how cameras that don’t have a racial bias can still have a disparate racial impact.

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Nani Jansen Reventlow receives Dutch prize for championing privacy and digital rights

The Dutch digital rights NGO Bits of Freedom has awarded Nani Jansen Reventlow the “Felipe Rodriguez Award” for her outstanding work championing digital rights and her crucial efforts in decolonising the field. In this (Dutch language) podcast she is interviewed by Bits of Freedom’s Inge Wannet about her strategic litigation work and her ongoing fight to decolonise the digital rights field.

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Racist Technology in Action: U.S. universities using race in their risk algorithms as a predictor for student success

An investigation by The Markup in March 2021, revealed that some universities in the U.S. are using a software and risk algorithm that uses the race of student as one of the factors to predict and evaluate how successful a student may be. Several universities have described race as a “high impact predictor”. The investigation found large disparities in how the software treated students of different races, with Black students deemed a four times higher risk than their White peers.

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Predictive policing reinforces and accelerates racial bias

The Markup and Gizmodo, in a recent investigative piece, analysed 5.9 million crime predictions by PredPol, crime prediction software used by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The results confirm the racist logics and impact driven by predictive policing on individuals and neighbourhoods. As compared to Whiter, middle- and upper-income neighbourhoods, Black, Latino and poor neighbourhoods were relentlessly targeted by the software, which recommended increased police presence. The fewer White residents who lived in an area – and the more Black and Latino residents who lived there – the more likely PredPol would predict a crime there. Some neighbourhoods, in their dataset, were the subject of more than 11,000 predictions.

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Racist Technology in Action: Uber’s racially discriminatory facial recognition system firing workers

This example of racist technology in action combines racist facial recognition systems with exploitative working conditions and algorithmic management to produce a perfect example of how technology can exacarbate both economic precarity and racial discrimination.

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‘Race-blind’ content moderation disadvantages Black users

Over the past months a slew of leaks from the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, has exposed how the company was aware of the disparate and harmful impact of its content moderation practices. Most damning is that in the majority of instances, Facebook failed to address these harms. In this Washington Post piece, one of the latest of such revelations is discussed in detail: Even though Facebook knew it would come at the expense of Black users, its algorithm to detect and remove hate speech was programmed to be ‘race-blind’.

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Dutch Scientific Council knows: AI is neither neutral nor always rational

AI should be seen as a new system technology, according to The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, meaning that its impact is large, affects the whole of society, and is hard to predict. In their new Mission AI report, the Council lists five challenges for successfully embedding system technologies in society, leading to ten recommendations for governments.

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