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Home » How I’m Fighting Bias In Algorithms: Joy Buolamwini (Transcript)

How I’m Fighting Bias In Algorithms: Joy Buolamwini (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Joy Buolamwini’s talk titled “How I’m Fighting Bias In Algorithms” at TED conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Rising Force of Algorithmic Bias

Hello, I’m Joy, a poet of code, on a mission to stop an unseen force that’s rising, a force that I called “the coded gaze,” my term for algorithmic bias. Algorithmic bias, like human bias, results in unfairness. However, algorithms, like viruses, can spread bias on a massive scale at a rapid pace. Algorithmic bias can also lead to exclusionary experiences and discriminatory practices.

Let me show you what I mean. [VIDEO: “Hi, camera. I’ve got a face. Can you see my face? No-glasses face? You can see her face. What about my face? Well I’ve got a mask. Can you see my mask?”

So, how did this happen? Why am I sitting in front of a computer in a white mask, trying to be detected by a cheap webcam? Well, when I’m not fighting the coded gaze as a poet of code, I’m a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab, and there I have the opportunity to work on all sorts of whimsical projects, including the Aspire Mirror, a project I did so I could project digital masks onto my reflection.

So in the morning, if I wanted to feel powerful, I could put on a lion. If I wanted to be uplifted, I might have a quote. So I used generic facial recognition software to build the system but found it was really hard to test it unless I wore a white mask.

Unfortunately, I’ve run into this issue before. When I was an undergraduate at Georgia Tech studying computer science, I used to work on social robots, and one of my tasks was to get a robot to play peek-a-boo, a simple turn-taking game where partners cover their face and then uncover it saying, “Peek-a-boo!”

The problem is, peek-a-boo doesn’t really work if I can’t see you, and my robot couldn’t see me. But I borrowed my roommate’s face to get the project done, submitted the assignment, and figured, you know what, somebody else will solve this problem.

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