‘Big risks’: Obama and tech experts address harms of AI to marginalized communities

‘Big risks’: Obama and tech experts address harms of AI to marginalized communities

More must be done to curb AI’s potential for harm or the further marginalization of people of color, a panel of experts weighing the ever-widening reach of AI warned last week.

The warning came during a panel discussion here at the Obama Foundation’s Democracy Forum, a yearly event for thought leaders to exchange ideas on how to create a more equitable society. This year’s forum was focused on the advances and challenges of AI.

During a panel titled, “Weighing AI and Human Progress,” Alondra Nelson, a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study, said AI tools can be incorrect and even perpetuate discrimination.

“There’s already evidence that the tools sometimes discriminate and sort of amplify and exacerbate bias in life — big problems that we’re already trying to grapple with in society,” Nelson said.

A 2021 paper published by AI researchers revealed how large language models can reinforce racism and other forms of oppression. People in positions of privilege tend to be over-represented in training data for language models, which incorporates encoded biases like racism, misogyny and ableism.

Furthermore, just in the last year multiple Black people have said they were misidentified by facial recognition technology, which is based on AI, leading to unfair criminalization. In Georgia, 28-year-old Randall Reid said he was falsely arrested and jailed in 2022 after Louisiana authorities used facial recognition technology to secure an arrest warrant linking him to three men involved in theft. Noticeable physical differences, including a mole on his face, prompted a Jefferson Parish sheriff to rescind the warrant.

Porcha Woodruff sued the city of Detroit for a false arrest in February. Her lawsuit accuses  authorities of using an unreliable facial recognition match in a photo lineup linking her to a carjacking and robbery. Woodruff, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was charged and released on a $100,000 personal bond. The case was later dropped for “insufficient evidence,” according to the lawsuit.

In polls, Black people have already expressed skepticism over the technology. In April the Pew Research Center found that 20% of Black adults who see racial bias and unfair treatment in hiring as an issue said they think AI would make it worse, compared to about 1 in 10 white, Asian and Latino adults.

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