Independent Lens’ Coded Bias Examines Biases Within Artificial Intelligence Programs

Independent Lens’ Coded Bias Examines Biases Within Artificial Intelligence Programs

In an increasingly data-driven, automated world, the question of how to protect individuals’ civil liberties in the face of artificial intelligence looms larger by the day. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Shalini Kantayya, Coded Bias – coming to Independent Lens this week –  follows MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini, along with data scientists, mathematicians and watchdog groups from different parts of the world as they fight to expose the discrimination within the facial recognition algorithms.

The film, which premieres Monday, March 22, at 10pm on CET and Thursday, March 25, at 10pm on ThinkTV16, begins when, while conducting research on facial recognition technology at the MIT Media Lab, computer scientist Joy Buolamwini made the startling discovery that the algorithm could not detect dark-skinned faces or women with reliable accuracy. This led to the harrowing realization that the very machine learning algorithms intended to avoid prejudice are only as unbiased as the humans and historical data programming them.

Coded Bias documents the dramatic journey that follows, from discovery to exposure to activism, as Buolamwini goes public with her findings and undertakes an effort to create a movement toward accountability and transparency, even testifying before Congress to push for the first-ever legislation governing facial recognition in the United States.

Around the world, artificial intelligence has already permeated every facet of public and private life — automating decisions about who gets hired, who gets health insurance and how long a prison term should be — theoretically casting analyses and insights that are free from human prejudice. In addition to following Buolamwini’s journey, Kantayya also goes to London, where police are piloting the use of facial recognition technology; Houston, Texas, where teachers are evaluated via algorithms; and Hangzhou, China, which is quickly becoming a model for city-wide surveillance. And, in each of these places, she profiles data scientists, mathematicians, ethicists and everyday individuals impacted by these disruptive technologies who are fighting to shed light on the impact of bias in A.I. on civil rights and democracy and to call for greater accountability.

Coded Bias illustrates the profound ways in which algorithms have come to shape people’s lives, with very little oversight from public and elected officials,” said Kantayya. “It’s my hope that the film pushes audiences toward a greater awareness about how these disruptive technologies impact issues of equality and equity and that it in turn encourages more people to speak up and hold the companies behind them accountable.”