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The Societal Impact of Racist Technologies

Discover the societal impacts of technology.

In this video, Abadesi and Efua discuss the societal impacts of technology.

Whilst no racial discrimination is acceptable, the severity of impacts can range from minor to life-threatening. Snapchat filters not working for darker-skinned people may be understood as an inconvenience (1), but other examples are much more life-affecting, such as wrongful arrest due to biased facial recognition software (2,3) and lending discrimination, where lenders charge higher interest rates to racially minoritised borrowers and earn higher profits on their loans (4).

Access to Services and Quality of Service

In the case of lending discrimination, we can see that a significant negative economic impact would arise from racial minorities not having access to mortgages than their white counterparts had.

In the UK, the Home Office, which is the government department overseeing immigration, attempted to deploy a sorting algorithm to determine visa application outcomes based on nationality, rather than attributes of the individual (5). This tool was in use since 2015. The Home Office had also launched facial recognition for passport photo checking services, despite knowing it worked poorly for ethnic minorities (6). Dark-skinned UK citizens took to the media and social media to share their experience with the technology (7 and 8).

What did you think about the impacts discussed in the video and article above? Can you think of others? Share your thoughts with your fellow learners.

References:

  1. Atima Lui, 2020. Snapchat filters don’t work on my face: here’s why, Nudest.
  2. Robert Williams, 2020. I was wrongfully arrested because of facial recognition. Why are police allowed to use it? Washington Post.
  3. Alexander J Martin, 2017. Police facial recognition trial led to ‘erroneous arrest’ Sky News.
  4. Laura Counts, 2018. Minority homebuyers face widespread statistical lending discrimination, study finds, Berkeley Haas.
  5. Foxglove, 2020. Home Office says it will abandon its racist visa algorithm – after we sued them.
  6. Adam Vaughan, 2019. The UK launched passport photo checker it knew would fail with dark skin, New Scientist.
  7. John Dunne, 2019. Man stunned as passport photo check sees lips as an open mouth, Evening Standard.
  8. Cat Hallam, 2019. Twitter
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Anti-Racist Approaches in Technology

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