How to Stop Robots From Becoming Racist

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In 2017, Holliday contributed to a RAND report warning that resolving bias in machine learning requires hiring diverse teams and cannot be fixed through technical means alone. In 2020, he helped found the nonprofit Black in Robotics, which works to widen the presence of Black people and other minorities in the industry. He thinks two principles from an algorithmic bill of rights he proposed at the time could reduce the risk of deploying biased robots. One is requiring disclosures that inform people when an algorithm is going to make a high stakes decision affecting them; the other is giving people the right to review or dispute such decisions. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is currently developing an AI Bill of Rights.

Some Black roboticists say their worries about racism becoming baked into automated machines come from a mix of engineering expertise and personal experience.

Terrence Southern grew up in Detroit and now lives in Dallas, maintaining robots for trailer manufacturer ATW. He recalls facing barriers to entering the robotics industry, or even to being aware of it. “Both my parents worked for General Motors, and I couldn’t have told you outside of The Jetsons and Star Wars what a robot could do,” Southern says. When he graduated college, he didn’t see anybody who looked like him at robotics companies, and believes little has changed since—which is one reason why he mentors young people interested in pursuing jobs in the field.

Southern believes it’s too late to fully prevent the deployment of racist robots, but thinks the scale could be reduced by the assembly of high-quality datasets, as well as

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