AI technologies — like police facial recognition — discriminate against people of colour

Jane Bailey et al at The Conversation: “…In his game-changing 1993 book, The Panoptic Sort, scholar Oscar Gandy warned that “complex technology [that] involves the collection, processing and sharing of information about individuals and groups that is generated through their daily lives … is used to coordinate and control their access to the goods and services that define life in the modern capitalist economy.” Law enforcement uses it to pluck suspects from the general public, and private organizations use it to determine whether we have access to things like banking and employment.

Gandy prophetically warned that, if left unchecked, this form of “cybernetic triage” would exponentially disadvantage members of equality-seeking communities — for example, groups that are racialized or socio-economically disadvantaged — both in terms of what would be allocated to them and how they might come to understand themselves.

Some 25 years later, we’re now living with the panoptic sort on steroids. And examples of its negative effects on equality-seeking communities abound, such as the false identification of Williams.

Pre-existing bias

This sorting using algorithms infiltrates the most fundamental aspects of everyday life, occasioning both direct and structural violence in its wake.

The direct violence experienced by Williams is immediately evident in the events surrounding his arrest and detention, and the individual harms he experienced are obvious and can be traced to the actions of police who chose to rely on the technology’s “match” to make an arrest. More insidious is the structural violence perpetrated through facial recognition technology and other digital technologies that rate, match, categorize and sort individuals in ways that magnify pre-existing discriminatory patterns.

Structural violence harms are less obvious and less direct, and cause injury to equality-seeking groups through systematic denial to power, resources and opportunity. Simultaneously, it increases direct risk and harm to individual members of those groups.

Predictive policing uses algorithmic processing of historical data to predict when and where new crimes are likely to occur, assigns police resources accordingly and embeds enhanced police surveillance into communities, usually in lower-income and racialized neighbourhoods. This increases the chances that any criminal activity — including less serious criminal activity that might otherwise prompt no police response — will be detected and punished, ultimately limiting the life chances of the people who live within that environment….(More)”.