YACE Alumna Joy Buolamwini Featured on TED.com

Fredrick Ngugi March 16, 2017

Joy Buolamwini, a YACE alumna, was featured on TED.com last week for her remarkable influence in the fight against algorithmic bias.

Buolamwini is the founder of Algorithmic Justice League (AJL), an organization that aims to promote equality and accountability during the design, development, and deployment of coded systems.

The organization highlights these biases through the media, art, and sciences, providing everyday citizens with a platform to voice their concerns and experiences with biased coding.

Speaking to Face2Face Africa, Buolamwini expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to appear on TED, explaining that the recognition has significantly increased the reach of AJL and proves that there is an appetite for inclusive technology.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences, and I hope it increases and broadens participation in the creation of more equitable technology,” Buolamwini said.

The MIT graduate researcher further revealed that her inspiration to start the organization came from continued frustrations with automated facial recognition systems that are often not built for all eyes and skin tones.

Promoting Algorithmic Fairness

Through AJL, Buolamwini and her team have been able to sensitize people — particularly those that are outside of academia — on issues around algorithmic fairness.

Buolamwini says many coded programs lack diversity in face recognition, which she calls the “Coded Gaze,” limiting some people from interacting with them.

AJL’s main objective is to make ordinary citizens aware of these discriminatory practices and show them how to identify them.

“Many people are unaware of the growing impact of the coded gaze and the rising need for fairness, accountability, and transparency in coded systems,” Buolamwini insists.

Since its inception in May 2016, AJL has contributed immensely to the fight against algorithmic bias, and Buolamwini says big companies, such as Google and Microsoft, are slowly adopting the idea of algorithmic fairness.

Buolamwini also runs an initiative called “Code4Rights,” which focuses on helping women create meaningful technology for their communities by teaching them how to develop basic mobile apps.

In recognition of her notable influence in the promotion of algorithmic fairness, Buolamwini was awarded a $50,000 grant as the Grand Prize winner of “The Search for Hidden Figures 2016,” a national competition inspired by the film “Hidden Figures.”

“We are currently working to create a system to allow everyday citizens to help check for bias and also test new technology,” Buolamwini reveals.

She also adds that her work is made possible by the immense support they get from the Center for Civic Media based at the MIT Media Lab and their partner Bocoup Research.

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