Everyday Activist - Coded Bias (2020) (Netflix)

Posted on Sunday, May 02, 2021 at 06:00 PM

Coded Bias (2020)

Movie Review by Everyday Activist X CalgaryMovies.com

Coded Bias was screened by the Teaching and Learning Online Network (TALON). Partnering with the University of Calgary and other organizations, TALON led a panel discussion including the film maker, Shalini Kantayya about social bias coded into algorithms. The story follows Joy Buolamwini, who accidentally stumbled on bias in artificial intelligence facial recognition technology at the MIT media lab while working on a class assignment. She finds out that she isn’t the only one noticing bias in algorithms when she finds Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book, Weapons of Math Destruction, at the Harvard Bookstore.

In addition to O’Neil and Buolamwini, the film highlighted other women in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, who have written extensively about social issues with titles such as Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble and Automating Inequality: How High Tech Tools Profile, Police and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks. I spent the last eight months in the Faculty of Social Work, they didn’t have a class available to talk about these issues. Kantayya’s take on social implications of technology emphasizes the importance of digital literacy for everyone including social work students who dislike math classes. At the University of Manitoba math is required to complete a social work degree. The faculty had to make their own math class for social workers, despite knowing data science is used in the field for everything from advocacy to service delivery.

As a South Asian woman, I have several math classes including computer programming, so I don’t understand the math aversion of social work students. I decided to quit social work to apply for Computational Design instead, given its focus on both arts and computer science. Not quite where Buolamwini studied, though her “art” is performing spoken word as the “Poet of Code” to support her “mission to show compassion through computation”. More multidisciplinary programs will need to be developed to understand complex problems well enough to design appropriate solutions.

Without experience in social work, I don’t think I would have enjoyed Coded Bias as much. The story wasn’t cohesive and skipped around using a cheesy robotic voice in between scenes. My inner activist liked hearing about China and the UK, but the storyteller wished the director focused on America to tell more local narratives such as the Brooklyn tenants who fought facial recognition software in their building, leaving the international stories for another film. While the middle was weird and in many cases weak, Coded Bias started strong and ended strong, as Buolamwini explains to a South African audience that once she discovered the issue with facial recognition technology, when she told IBM about it, they corrected the error. IBM also canceled their facial recognition software for law enforcement. Amazon put theirs on hold until June 2021. Together we can create a compassionate world with computers.

Coded Bias is also available to be screened on Netflix.

Calgary Showtimes: Coded Bias (2020) >


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