From The Newsletter: How AI Mirrors Racism Right Back At Us

Key Insights: 

  • Black data scientists, founders and ethicists are leading the charge on limiting the impact that AI has on the criminal justice system that disproportionately negatively impacts Black folks. 
  • As Timnit Gebru poaches top talent from Google for DAIR, other Black founders are providing a much-needed update to technology that makes communications easier for those incarcerated. 


It’s been said that machine learning models are only as good as the data they are based on, but this data undoubtedly ends up reflecting and perpetuating our biased systems. The Pattern algorithm that works to assess incarcerated people’s readiness for early release, a tool used by the Justice Department, was shown to produce uneven results, disproportionately and erroneously predicting that Black, Hispanic and Asian people had a higher propensity to commit more crimes. 

Organizations Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR), created by former Google AI Researcher Timnit Gebru, and Joy Buolamwini’s Algorithmic Justice League have been established to counteract the pervasive influence of AI technologies and to promote digital advocacy. 

The Plug recently reported on how Black founders are innovating at least one aspect of the justice system, through the way incarcerated people communicate with their families. For decades, the same few companies have held a monopoly on the prison communications industry that is desperately in need of innovation, stymied in part due to racism. 

While AI has far-reaching implications beyond law enforcement and the justice system, this area, in particular, is one to establish more stringent checks and balances given the imbalance of Black communities being disproportionately incarcerated at higher rates. It would seem Black data scientists, researchers, founders, activists and ecosystem leaders continue to lead the charge.

Monica Melton

Monica Melton is the managing editor of The Plug Insights. She previously covered innovation, technology, and venture capital at Forbes. She has also covered politics at POLITICO, entertainment for Time Out New York, but her most fascinating beat has been covering the intersection of technology, finance, and entrepreneurship. She is an alumna of CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Washington.