An event designed to encourage greater participation by Black researchers in artificial intelligence has become the latest flashpoint in the debate over diversity at the cutting edge of computer science and whether political correctness has gone too far, reports Bloomberg.
In December, a group called Black in AI plans to host an afternoon workshop to highlight AI research by Black computer scientists at the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, one of the top gatherings for scientists working on AI. While the organizers invited people of all races to attend the workshop, they said only Black researchers would be allowed to present papers. As news of the event spread on social media, it sparked a backlash from some coders and academics who questioned why an event focusing solely on research by Back scientists was necessary.
The debate echoes the controversy in August that followed Google employee James Damore’s circulation of a manifesto that, among other points, accused the company of overzealously promoting diversity at the expense of technical ability in hiring and promotions.
Already there have been a number of high-profile incidents in which AI programs exhibited racial bias. In 2016, a computer program designed to judge human beauty using supposedly objective features in photographs – like facial symmetry and wrinkles – was found to heavily favor people with light skin. That same year, after Microsoft Corp. released a Twitter chatbot called Tay, users easily goaded it into using racist language and expressing neo-Nazi views.
An algorithm that was supposed to provide parole boards with objective advice on whether a prisoner was likely to commit another crime if released was found to incorrectly judge Black defendants as “high risk” twice as often as white defendants.
And there are concerns about hidden bias within big data sets – on everything from mortgage lending and insurance underwriting to the clinical trials of new drugs – that are increasingly being used to train machine-learning algorithms.