AI Is Too White

Image from the author

What happens when we search in our browser the word robot? What do we see? What can we notice from those images? We see that many aren’t yet human-like and the second, they’re all white.

Robots and AI machines have been always depicted as white. Without realizing this, we transfer values to the objects we create. We want to transfer them intelligence, a professional approach, and good-looking (or at least friendly) features, but what is behind this idea?

There are strong connections between race and technology. Starting by who is the owner of the technology we use, who designs it, and can to buy it. And we must not forget that beautiful term called color blindness. We’re normalizing several topics that are far away from normal for a big part of the population.

AI perpetuates 3 mainly beliefs

1. We normalize whiteness in our society as part of the status quo without questioning why.

2. We assume that intelligence is linked with whiteness.

3. We eliminate POC from the tech imaginary.

These 3 implications lead to 3 common dangers:

1. It amplifies the existing prejudices against certain races.

2. Multiplies the effects of injustices.

3. Modifies the perception of risks and benefits of AI.

To understand how deeply whiteness is introduced in AI we must understand its presence in all kinds of shapes. We can see whiteness in human-robot prototypes, the name we give them, their voice, and accent to just give a few examples. These traits are given by default without questioning if we are reproducing our own biases. And also, as a person of color, I ask myself how brainwashed we are that we can’t see these things unless someone points them out.

However, we can choose if we want to racialized AI or not. There are many little steps the tech industry could do to change this, but even the most minimal ones aren’t done.

Adding more diverse people to their teams would help enhance a better outcome. When I talk about diverse people I mean people with different thoughts, different backgrounds, and abilities. The only thing they need to have in common is active listening and willingness to change the status quo.

I know it won’t be enough to break the rules of this insane whiteness that touches all the layers of this society. I’m aware that robots will never look like me, but it’s fair to ask ourselves why and how we can change these standards.

Sometimes I feel the more I know, the less aware I am of what surrounds me because I always discover new things challenging us as human beings. That sense of being fooled all your life thinking everything is how it is for a certain reason. Having this feeling is a shame, but that’s what arises in me when I know more about these interesting topics.

What on Earth has to happen to change AI’s trend? How can we decolonize it? Is there an easy way to do so?

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Data Scientist & Analyst. Curious Learning Enthusiast. Interested in Responsible Tech and DEI | Twitter: @oyidiyaoji

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Oyidiya Oji

Oyidiya Oji

Data Scientist & Analyst. Curious Learning Enthusiast. Interested in Responsible Tech and DEI | Twitter: @oyidiyaoji

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