Education, For the Record, News, Technology

Experts Seek to Diversify Tech Industry 

By: Asia Alexander, Sabreen Dawud, Makenna Underwood, Amarie Betancourt

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has made its way into various industries from convenient assistance on cell phones to self-driving vehicles. AI seems to be here to stay. However, the safety surrounding this technology, particularly for Black communities, is questionable.

While AI technology appears to have advanced technology, Black communities have considered the lack of inclusivity in developing technology testing. Scientific advancements have historically excluded Black people from their research, leaving these communities concerned about whether or not new gadgets and features are safe for them to use.

Though AI is rapidly evolving, there’s still a lack of diversity in the industry. A 2021 report by Artificial Intelligence Index revealed that among recent graduates with a PhD in A.I technology only 2.4% were African-American while 45% were White, 22.4% were Asian, and 3.2% were Hispanic.

This lack of diversity creates a racial gap that leaves many African-Americans susceptible to bias and technological discrimination. From AI-based employment tools discriminating against minority groups to a lack of advanced speech technology for Black dialects, Black technology professionals are advocating to change how A.I is used in the Black community.

Gbolahan Olanubi, a senior UX researcher at Google and creator of Elevate Black Voices seeks to change the racial gap in technology. Elevate Black Voices is a collaboration with Howard University that aims “to build a high-quality African-American English (AAE) speech dataset,” according to Google.

For Olanubi, there needs to be an intersection between technology and Black people.

“Companies can reach out to Howard University for access to data for voice models,” said Olanubi.

Mutale Nkonde, founding CEO of A.I for the people, acknowledges that A.I. tools “can be racist, sexist, ableist,” but as humans have agency over technology, the tools can be beneficial in the right hands.

“We can make them better and we can get high-paying jobs. I think it is a very powerful way of thinking about some of the problems that they have. We can position ourselves as the solution,” Nkonde said.

The New York Times spoke with artist Stephanie Dickins, who has done extensive research on how AI depicts Black women visually. Dickins experimented with various word prompts resulting in images that she described as “alarming.” The machines failed to accurately depict hair texture, facial features, and skin complexion regardless of how she modified her instructions.

January 28, 2024

About Author