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The connection between AI and racism

In this article, learn about how racism is being tackled across organisations, and the development of facial recognition software.

The impact of Joy Buolamwini’s research on facial recognition software started a global discussion on the lack of training data that represents all faces, especially those with darker skins. Her research didn’t stop there, however.

How law enforcement uses facial recognition technology

In the U.S there has been a growing debate about whether and how law enforcement and the private sector should use the technology, and in a hearing at the House Oversight and Reform Committee in May 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioned Joy about racial and gender bias in the technology.

The hearing was intended to ‘examine the use of facial recognition technology by government and commercial entities and the need for oversight on how this technology is used on civilians.’ (1) One of the commercial entities in question was Amazon, whose facial recognition technology, Rekognition, has been revealed to have problems recognising women and people of colour.

On the same day of the hearing, Amazon’s investors voted against a measure seeking to stop the sale of Rekognition to government agencies (2). Shareholders also opposed a measure directing Amazon to perform a review of the civil liberties implications of its face recognition technology (3).

The need for global initiatives

The hearing highlighted the need for global initiatives to oppose the unfair deployment of AI technologies. This led to the World Economic Forum launching the “Global AI Action Alliance” in January 2020 (4).

The global plan to promote ethical AI saw more than 100 businesses, governments and nonprofits sign up to a global initiative to make artificial intelligence more ethical and transparent, with a remit of ensuring the development of tools and frameworks for making AI trusted, transparent and inclusive ranging from product design to tackling racial injustice.

Watch this video that spotlights the privacy concerns of facial recognition and consider how you think the Global AI Alliance could support organisations to ensure anti-racism in technology development’?


  1. US Government House Committee on Oversight Reform, 2019. Facial recognition technology (part 1): its impact on our civil rights and liberties
  2. Colin Lecher, 2019. Amazon shareholders vote down proposals on facial recognition and climate change, The Verge.
  3. Mark Sullivan, 2019. Here’s AOC calling out the vicious circle of white men building biased face AI Fast Company.
  4. World Economic Forum Global AI Action Alliance
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Anti-Racist Approaches in Technology

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