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The Racist Roots of New Technology

#artificialintelligence

Race After Technology opens with a brief personal history set in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, where sociologist Ruha Benjamin spent a portion of her childhood. Recalling the time she set up shop on her grandmother's porch with a chalkboard and invited other kids to do math problems, she writes, "For the few who would come, I would hand out little slips of paper…until someone would insist that we go play tag or hide-and-seek instead. Needless to say, I didn't have that many friends!" As she gazed out the back window during car rides, she saw "boys lined up for police pat-downs," and inside the house she heard "the nonstop rumble of police helicopters overhead, so close that the roof would shake." The omnipresent surveillance continued when she visited her grandmother years later as a mother, her homecomings blighted by "the frustration of trying to keep the kids asleep with the sound and light from the helicopter piercing the window's thin pane." Benjamin's personal beginning sets the tone for her book's approach, one that focuses on how modern invasive technologies--from facial recognition software to electronic ankle monitors to the metadata of photos taken at protests--further racial inequality.