In 2015, Google infamously issued an apology after one of its algorithms misidentified a photo of software engineer Jacky Alciné and a friend—both of whom are black—as gorillas.
This kind of error is the result of what computer scientist Joy Buolamwini calls the “coded gaze”: when supposedly unbiased algorithms foster discrimination—in insurance rates, prison sentences, photo labeling and more—because they lack sufficient data about people of color. It’s why she founded the Algorithmic Justice League in 2016: to highlight that bias, provide a space for users to report it, and help companies eliminate it in their own products.
Buolamwini has since provided her expertise in two congressional hearings and is now working with government agencies in Europe. “The more I engage with companies and policymakers, the more I am convinced responsible innovation cannot happen if we leave companies to sort themselves out,” says Buolamwini. “The age of ‘just trust us’ is over.” —Patrick Lucas Austin