Tag Archives: discrimination

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Discrimination in design can come in two forms


Discrimination in design comes in two forms. One is through direct action. When you see benches designed to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, that’s one example. Many more examples can be found in this ProPublica piece: Discrimination by Design — ProPublica.

Ignorance is the second way discrimination can occur in design. Just this week Twitter rolled out an audio feature that is inaccessible for deaf people. No one at twitter set out to discriminate against deaf people. The designers at Twitter just didn’t take them into account. (Apparently Twitter doesn’t have an accessibility review team for their software updates, which is bad for a technology company as large as they are.)

Keep in mind both forms when you see something that seems designed to discriminate against certain people. It may be intentional, or it may be an omission. Either way, steps should be taken to eliminate that discrimination.

(More on twitter’s audio tweets, here.)

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Is technology designed to perpetuate racism?

That’s what this piece argues: Of course technology perpetuates racism. It was designed that way. | MIT Technology Review.

I disagree. Technology sometimes perpetuates racism, but it is often due to the fact it is NOT designed to account for racism. Sometimes machine learning software cannot perceive non-white faces correctly because they are trained with only white faces and cannot account for non-white faces. Sometimes search engines result in racist results, based on racist queries. AI systems can be made racist by engaging with a multitude of racists. If you feed systematic racist data based on redlining into your banking system or prison data into your justice software system, then those systems will make racist decisions. In all these cases, the fact that the systems are not designed to account for racism (or sexism or any form of discrimintation) is the problem. They need to be designed to account for these things.

Only when technology is designed to account for racism will it stop perpetuating racism.