Objective Algorithms Are a Myth

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Detroit police have used highly unreliable facial recognition technology almost exclusively against Black people so far in 2020, according to the Detroit Police Department’s own statistics. The department’s use of the technology gained national attention last week after the American Civil Liberties Union and New York Times brought to light the case of Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, a man who was wrongfully arrested because of the technology.

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In Coded Bias, a documentary by Shalini Kantayya, the director follows MIT Media Lab researcher and Algorithmic Justice League founder Joy Buolamwini as she discovers one of the fundamental problems with facial recognition. While algorithms are often understood as unbiased, objective, and amoral, they can reproduce the biases of the humans that create them. Broussard says that we imbue technology with “magical thinking,” which lauds its benefits but obscures its negative effects.

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