The Download: Joy Buolamwini on AI, and Meta’s beauty filter lawsuit


AI researcher and activist Joy Buolamwini is best known for a pioneering paper she co-wrote with Timnit Gebru in 2017 which exposed how commercial facial recognition systems often failed to recognize the faces of Black and brown people, especially Black women. Her research and advocacy led companies such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft to improve their software so it would be less biased and back away from selling their technology to law enforcement.

Now, Buolamwini has a new target in sight. She is calling for a radical rethink of how AI systems are built. Buolamwini tells MIT Technology Review that, amid the current AI hype cycle, she sees a very real risk of letting technology companies pen the rules that apply to them— repeating the very mistake that has previously allowed biased and oppressive technology to thrive. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

If you’re interested in Buolamwini’s vision for the future of AI, check out this excerpt from her new book Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What Is Human in a World of Machines. In it, she argues that we spend too much time focusing on existential risk from superintelligent AI, and too little on the harms that result from AI here and now. 

Why Meta is getting sued over its beauty filters

Dozens of US states announced they were suing Meta last week, claiming that the company knowingly harms young users. The case is a pretty big deal and will almost certainly have a sweeping impact on the national debate about child safety online.  Potentially, it could lead to policy and platform changes. The case is also poised to stress-test existing privacy law that protects minors’ data. 

Some of its core allegations are that Meta misleads young users about safety features and the pervasiveness of harmful content on platforms, including harm created by beauty filters on Instagram. Tate Ryan-Mosley, our senior tech policy reporter, has dug into what the research says about how these features affect young users—and who is profiting from them. Read the full story.

This story is from The Technocrat, our weekly newsletter covering power and tech in Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.


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