What are Ethical Algorithms? The Tech documentary “Coded Bias” predicts future possibilities.

Filmmaker Shalini Kantayya investigates advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning in the impactful documentary “Coded Bias.”

MIT Researcher Joy Buolamwini provides the heart and soul igniting the tech documentary “Coded Bias.” Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) source human data from various sources, including social media likes and swipes to smartphone texts and photos. Does this mean we can lay claim to frontier technology like AI and demand algorithm equity, equality, and fairness? “Coded Bias” filmmaker Shalini Kantayya dives into the social justice challenges surrounding AI and facial recognition technology with her compelling tech documentary. “Coded Bias” continues to attract advocates since debuting at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It helps that Kantayya has a powerful interview subject explaining algorithmic bias clearly and concisely. 

MIT Researcher Joy Buolamwini provides the heart and soul igniting “Coded Bias.” Buolamwini is an artist and technologist best known for investigating facial recognition software that fails to identify dark-skinned individuals. Buolamwini’s research uncovers facial recognition technology using facial examples that lead to a “coded gaze” based on gender and racial bias. Buolamwini also delivers the core concept at the heart of the movie. The idea of frontier tech providing tools for a better and safer world is false. Digital privacy threats make a more significant impact on minorities, racial, and ethnic groups. The same is true for algorithmic bias that spreads at a rapid pace and a worldwide scale. In the case of facial recognition software, technology is a force for inequality. 

Kantayya and Buolamwini bring a hopeful vision to “Coded Bias” and partner to show how all of us can advocate for future tech that delivers equity and equality.

 It’s inspiring to watch an activist like Buolamwini take charge. She’s the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization formed in 2016 to challenge bias in decision-making software, and Safe Face Pledge, a partnership with Georgetown Law Center that works to reduce the abuse of facial recognition technology. Civic technologists like Buolamwini are making an impact. Tech companies like Amazon and IBM, and Microsoft are working to bring equality to facial recognition technology. By the time “Coded Bias” wraps with closing credits, you’ll feel hopeful about the next steps regarding the possibility of algorithmic justice for all. 

Director: Shalini Kantayya

Production: Chicken and Egg Pictures, 7th Empire Media, ITVS, Women Make Movies, and Just Films.

Distributor: Netflix and Women Make Movies.


Air Date: April 5, 2021

Behind the Curtain: Interested in learning more about Joy Buolamwini’s research in algorithmic justice? Watch her popular TEDx talk. 

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