Technology is a constantly evolving discipline. In order to address the most complicated problems, engineers and researchers must take advantage of the complex processes that technology offers. Oftentimes, we see technology being utilized as a means to relieve ourselves of strenuous activities, but ultra-intuitive systems have a wide range of applications in today’s society. Whether it’s something convenient like a self-driving car or something as elaborate as predictive analysis, it’s only natural that we seek out ways to optimize our lifestyles and improve the overall human condition.
While it may seem appropriate to celebrate these advancements, it’s also important that we examine new technology with a critical eye. Time and time again, popular organizations have validated the idea that technology is riddled with bias. Take Microsoft, for example, which developed the Kinect in 2010. This device was designed to supplement the popular Xbox gaming system by detecting a player’s motions in real life and using those movements to dictate the actions of an avatar in the game. It was later discovered that the motion-sensing device was not effective in detecting the activity of women and children. Peggy Johnson, an executive at Microsoft, reasoned that because the development team lacked diversity, the end product was created with a lack of information, and therefore neglected an entire group of people.
A more timely example of bias in technology would be the prejudice found in facial-recognition algorithms. A 2018 MIT study found that popular gender-recognition systems had error rates that were as high as 34% for women with darker skin. By contrast, the rate of error for white men was about 49 times lower: A significant difference. Similar to the issue with Kinect, this unexpected prejudice emerged as a result of a lack of diversity between the test subjects. Artificial intelligence is an ultra-intuitive approach to designing technology, but a lack of consideration for all instances of use can contribute to social contention.
I don’t believe that technology in itself is inherently biased. As a matter of fact, I would even argue that technology, in its purest form, is the quintessential representation of objectivity. Unfortunately, the integrity of technology is only this pure when ethically designed. After all, technology is designed by people, who are innately biased. Despite our best efforts to design impartial technology, prejudice manages to find a way to compromise the objectivity of new technologies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us more reliant on technology than ever before. I, like many other NC State students, am using devices daily in order to accomplish work I would normally complete in person. Therefore, it’s important that we scrutinize the characteristics of this online environment. As technology becomes an integral part of our lives, we must criticize the ethics that contribute to its development while it’s still maturing.
Though it may not impact all of us equally, we must all confront this bias with haste. NC State promotes equal opportunity for all students. Thus, it is only appropriate for us to safeguard the liberties of our peers in all realms of opportunity, technology included.
By actively seeking out bias in technology, we help to promote the use of effective thinking models during the design process. More often than not, prejudices are worked into a system without the algorithm operators realizing it, as their awareness is limited. Fortunately, social pressures encourage developers to ask themselves if groups of people will be negatively affected as a result of the algorithm or its unexpected repercussions.
It is necessary to consider ethics in the development of technology to ensure we aren’t establishing a foundation of bias in a growingly popular industry. As technology quickly becomes a more fundamental aspect of our lives, we must ensure that it is produced with all stakeholders in mind.