September 25, 2023

Black Tech Researchers are Changing the Game

As we know, the AI takeover is among us. Jobs are being replaced left and right yet being widely created within the AI development industry. Not only are jobs becoming widespread in the industry, but black AI researchers are as well. The future of AI is a common concern of citizens, but black AI researchers have been changing the game significantly.

A well-known black Stanford graduate and computer scientist Timnit Gerbu has a passion for pursuing diversity in technology. Gerbu was a former Google employee co-leading a research team called Ethical AI Team. When she criticized Google’s lack of hiring minorities and then wrote a paper highlighting the dangers of large language models, she was soon laid off by Google. However this only made her realize that Google was the wrong environment for her to pursue the work she wanted, so she decided to continue her work on her own. “That really clarified that I couldn’t really do that kind of work in a setting like Google,” Gerbu said in a recent interview. “and so I started a nonprofit called the Distributed AI Research Institute to do this work.”

Distributed AI Research Institute, also known as DAIR, was created by Gerbu with the desire to have an institute where people are distributed around the world impacting AI and social development. Yet Gerbu is not the only one who is seeking an ethical change in AI. Computer scientist Rediet Abebe grew up with a passion for mathematics, but questions revolving around discrimination and inequality in Cambridge sparked an interest. Abebe focuses her work on the discrimination and inequality in economic welfare, housing, and education that is often overlooked. “I think about ways in which discrimination plays out in these domains,” Abebe said in a 2021 interview. “Ways in which we’re not maybe doing a very good job measuring the inequality or the sort of disadvantage that people are facing. And then after doing that I also think about what can be done about this.”

Abebe and Gerbu founded the Black in AI in 2017 and has been thriving ever since, growing from a Facebook group to a global nonprofit organization with over 5000 members with big sponsors such as Apple, Microsoft, Meta, Oracle, and more. Its purpose is to give support and opportunities to black professionals and address the lack of diversity in the technology field.

Though spreading the word through technology is not the only way. Sociologist and Princeton University professor Ruha Benjamin shares her message about equity and technology through books. She’s written award-winning works such as Race After Technology, which describes how racism is within the ideologies and practices of U.S. technology companies and society. It received the 2020 Honorable Mention for Communications, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology Book Award, the 2020 Winner of the Oliver Cromwell Cox Book Award, and the 2020 Brooklyn Public Literary Prize for Nonfiction. Her book Viral Justice provides a passionate vision of how small changes turn into large changes that transform relationships and communities to make the world a better place, winning the 2023 Stowe Prize.

Benjamin wants not only her audience but society itself to think about complex systems like healthcare, criminal justice, and education systems where institutions outsource human decisions and turn them into risk assessment tools. “by calling attention to discriminatory design, it’s the human decisions and values that shape the process of tech development. We’re able to see the hard. We have a language to identify the harm, but the hope is not that we stop there,” Benjamin said in a Princeton University interview. “The hope is that by seeing the harm, we feel empowered, and we feel motivated.” She understands that one book may not be able to do all of that, but she also knows that one book can make a difference and impact someone’s life.

Latest Articles


Search our archive of past issues Receive our Latest Updates
* indicates required
Scroll to Top