'Coded Bias' Is the Most Important Film About AI You Can Watch Today
Before it was even released, Coded Bias was positioned to become essential viewing for anyone interested in the AI ethics debate. The documentary, which was released on Netflix this week, is the kind of film that can and should be shown in countless high school classrooms, where students themselves are subjected to various AI systems in the post-pandemic age of Zoom. It's a refreshingly digestible introduction to the myriad ways algorithmic bias has infiltrated every aspect of our lives—from racist facial recognition and predictive policing systems to scoring software that decides who gets access to housing, loans, public assistance, and more.
But amid the recent high-profile firings of Timnit Gebru and others at Google's AI ethics team, the documentary seems like only one part of a deeper and ongoing story. If we understand algorithmic bias as a form of computationally-imposed ideology, rather than an unfortunate rounding error, we can't simply attack the symptoms. We need to challenge the existence of the racist and capitalist institutions that created those systems in the first place.
The film follows Joy Buolamwini, a computer scientist and founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization that she started after realizing that facial recognition systems weren't trained to recognize darker-skinned faces. Buolamwini is easily one of the most important figures in the AI field, and she serves as a gateway into a range of stories about how automation has imposed on us a robotic and unjust world—albeit one that merely reflects and amplifies the pre-existing injustices brought about by racism, sexism, and capitalism.