Coded Bias

The Plot:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Joy Buolamwini discovers that a facial recognition program works well for white males, moderately for white women and poorly for minorities. Delving into the history of programming algorithms, Buolamwini, along with Cathy O’Neil realize that most algorithms have this c,oded bias inadvertently programmed into them creating inequity throughout society.

Kent's Take:

When I first read about this film I was a bit skeptical. Coding bias into a program didn’t make sense to me. However, all was clarified as this eye-opening documentary unfolds.

Facial recognition software uses an algorthim that is a type of Artificial intelligence (AI). All modern AI software is based upon data and algorithms.

As Buolamwini learned the results of her study, she found that Cathy O’Neil, another mathematician, also noticed the same thing. This was math being used for corrupt practices and they became determined to show this and get it corrected.

Most companies that use algorithms have no idea how they work or how the results are gained. That is because there are two ways to program the old-fashioned way finds programmers writing code that gives specific tasks and computers execute those tasks. The more modern method uses vast amounts of data that is now available coupled with AI algorithms. These programs are written such that the AI systems are told to use this data for a certain purpose and allows the AI to learn and make decisions on its own. What these AI systems then do is churn the data and attempt to reflect the world around us. For example, one AI program was used in an experiment to look at resumes for a tech company. The company soon discovered that every woman’s resume was rejected because this industry was almost exclusively a male dominated industry, thus the AI attempted to replicate the current environment.

This must-see documentary is truly an unsettling topic as viewers learn that our society is quickly becoming automated with these AI algorithms. Programs remove human decision-making, replacing it with flawed AI decision-making.

As Buolamwini and O’Neil unmask industry after industry that uses these flawed programs the realization that we have lost control of our world quickly becomes evident. Teachers are being evaluated for tenure AND fired using the exact same AI algorithm. The United Kingdom uses a flawed facial recognition program for Facial Recognition Surveillance. The FBI considered using Amazon’s new facial recognition program until the inaccuracy was brought to light.

Writer/Director Shalini Kantayya deftly outlines the pitfalls and grim reality of our decisions to automate so many of our systems. This documentary has no political bias and shows the concern from legislators on both sides of the political fence.

Nine companies build AI systems – six in the U.S., three in China. China has unfettered access to their citizen’s data, forcing them to conform to the CCP mantra or lose societal privileges.

“The only difference between China and the U.S. data collection is that China is transparent about it.”

“Coded Bias” is a powerful punch of reality as Joy Buolamwini fights for equity in our systems and calls attention to a hidden but very important flaw in our society. Couple this documentary with Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma” and you will begin to understand the uphill battle we now face due to coded psychology and coded bias.