I’ll stop calling algorithms racist when you stop anthropomorphizing AI


I was involved in an interesting discussion the other day with other data scientists on the mistake people make when they describe a “racist algorithm”. Their point, which I largely agreed with, is that algorithms are simply mirroring back to us what we’ve fed them as training data, and in that sense they are no more racist than any other mirror. And yes, it’s a complicated mirror, but it’s still just a mirror.

This issue came up specifically because there was a recent Mic.com story about how, if you google image search “professional hairstyles for work,” you’ll get this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 9.24.56 AM

but if you google image search “unprofessional hairstyles for work” you’ll instead get this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 9.26.12 AM.png

This is problematic, but it’s also clearly not the intention of the Google engineering team, or the google image search algorithm, to be racist. It is instead a reflection of what we as a community have presented to that…

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