It’s called techno-racism. And while you may not have heard of it, it’s baked into some of the technology we encounter every day.
We talked to some experts to gain a deeper understanding of what techno-racism is and what you can do about it.
Or in other words, as Bell says in Sunday’s “United Shades” episode:
“Feed a bunch of racist data, collected from a long racist history … and what you get is a racist system that treats the racism that’s put into it as the truth.”
So facial recognition systems are an example of it?
Yes, they can be.
Facial recognition technology uses software to identify people by matching images, such as faces in a surveillance video with mug shots in a database. It’s a major resource for police departments searching for suspects.
Some police departments, government agencies and facial recognition vendors are now cautioning that facial recognition matches should be used only as investigative tools, not as evidence.
What are some other examples of techno-racism?
- Unemployment fraud systems
Some states are using facial recognition to reduce fraud when processing unemployment benefits. Applicants are asked to upload verification documentation, including a photo, and their images are matched against a database to verify their identity.
“This sounds great, but commercial facial recognition technologies used by Amazon, IBM and Microsoft have been found to be 40% inaccurate when identifying Black people,” Nkonde said.
“So this will lead to Black people being more likely to be misidentified as attempting to commit fraud, potentially criminalizing them.”
One such tool is the mortgage algorithms used by online lenders to determine rates for loan applicants.
These algorithms are still using flawed historical data from a period when Black people could not own property, Nkonde said.
“Even if the people writing the algorithms intend to create a fair system, their programming is having a disparate impact on minority borrowers — in other words, discriminating under the law,” she said.
Are tech companies doing anything about it?
How else can we fight techno-racism?
When technology reflects biases in the real world, it leads to discrimination and unequal treatment in all areas of life. That includes employment, home ownership and criminal justice, among others.
One way to combat that is to train and hire more Black professionals in the American technology sector, Nkonde said.
She also said voters must demand that elected officials pass laws regulating the use of algorithmic technologies.
“It’s good to remember that digital technologies and digital systems are still built with human involvement, not imposed on us by some nonhuman entity,” he said. “Like with other expressions of racism, the fight against techno-racism will need to be multipronged and will likely never end.”