By Sara Brown | MIT Ideas Made to Matter | November 17, 2020
About 50 years ago, during the height of the civil rights movement and as policymakers started to explore how to use computing, there was an opportunity to align the future of technology and the pursuit of racial justice. Some civil rights leaders proposed using technology to address racial bias and to make sure Black and Indigenous people benefited from innovation.
“From where I sit, we chose the wrong path,” said Charlton McIlwain, a New York University professor and author of “Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter.”
Today opportunities to use, develop, and profit from technology are mostly available to white and wealthy people, he said, or those who have connections to networks of capital. Technology has also exacerbated bias through things like facial recognition, predictive policing, and bail predictions.
Deliberate action is required to redirect the way technology accounts for and perpetuates racism, McIlwain said at the recent EmTech MIT conference hosted by MIT Technology Review. Today this includes addressing past missteps along with reframing for the future.
“How do we overcome discriminatory design when it is hard-coded into the very infrastructure that shapes future technological innovations?” McIlwain asked.
McIlwain presented three strategies to redirect technology down the right path.