Beauty AI algorithms are biased

Image Source: Courtesy of Joy Buolamwini

Too often, the best beauty stories go unrelated, based solely on a person’s skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socio-economic status. Here, we turn the mic on to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry, so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of their birth – and how they use beauty to change the world for the better. Following: Joy Buolamwini, computer scientist and founder of Algorithmic Justice League (AJL).

From an early age, I was interested in finding ways to use computers to help people. Growing up, my father, who is a professor of medicinal chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences, took me to his lab to feed cancer cells. He also showed me how he used computers to develop cancer drugs.

I grew up with an appreciation for the search for truth, both with the arts and with science, thanks to my mother being an artist. I wasn’t sure at first that I could mix both the artistic part of what I did with algorithmic hearing, but I took the opportunity to ask myself, what would it be like to be a poet of code, someone who mixes the two worlds in order to do what poets do, which is to illuminate an uncomfortable truth or ideas hidden in the daily interactions that we have?

I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit too. In high school, I had a small web design business, and it allowed me to earn money to be able to pay for basketball, track and field, and cross country equipment and then to the college, I co-founded a hair care technology company that analyze hair type and give people personal product recommendations.

After that, I was lucky enough to get a Fulbright scholarship to go to Zambia, and started an organization that taught girls how to code. By the time I got to college, I had the experience and confidence to start the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization that combines art, academic research, and advocacy to fight for the people who are harmed by AI, whom I like to call the “ex-coded”.

“I started to investigate if AI systems worked differently depending on the type of face being analyzed, and what my research revealed is that they do.”

When I was working on an art installation as a graduate student at MIT, part of the installation was intended to track the location of my face with software, but it didn’t work very well on my face until then. that I put on a white mask. This led to my research in 2017 on facial and analytical technologies that might attempt to guess the gender of a face. This experience of putting on a white mask to be made visible to a machine is what really made me start to wonder, are these machines so neutral?

I started to research if AI systems worked differently depending on the type of face being analyzed, and what my research revealed is that they do. Examining the AI ​​systems of a number of large tech companies, I have found that the systems work better on men’s faces than women’s faces when it comes to guessing gender, and that ‘They work better on faces with lighter skin than on faces with darker skin. It made me think that if these results had been reversed, would these computers be on the market in the first place? It was this experience of coding in a white mask and then having the opportunity to show some of the biggest differences in accuracy in commercial AI products at the time that led me to delve deeper into the issues of code bias, which was really the seed for starting the Algorithmic Justice League.

Image source: Olay

In beauty AI, if we are looking at scanning faces or having faces processed through a machine, you will see it with the types of filters used that could lighten your skin or slim your nose as a way to claim to improve health. beauty. – which is based on Eurocentric beauty standards and marginalizes women of color. Through my research, I realized that I had this important perspective to bring from my lived experience of not being seen, of being ex-coded. This is something that not only has an impact on me, but it is something that exists in our society at large as we have AI systems penetrating more and more in all areas.

Another thing to consider in the beauty field is the use of AI in employment – deciding who gets hired, who gets fired, who gets promoted. The beauty industry employs so many people, and naturally companies want to try and embrace the latest technology, but we really need to think about how AI serves as a gatekeeper for who can even participate within the industry. industry.

A major part of what we are doing with the Algorithmic Justice League is asking how do we go towards a world with more equitable and responsible AI? Part of this is raising awareness, because you can’t fix an issue you don’t even know about, and a lot of people are unaware of coded biases. That’s why I was so happy to partner with Olay on the Decode bias campaign to combat bias in beauty algorithms. Thinking about who codes and how we code is an essential part of change. The brand’s initiative to send 1,000 girls to Black Girls CODE camp to help them pursue STEM careers helps ensure that the people who create the technologies that shape society truly reflect society. The biases continue to show what happens when we are not in the room.

“In beauty AI, if we are looking at scanning faces or having faces processed through a machine, you will see it with the types of filters used that could lighten your skin or slim your nose as a way to claim to improve. beauty – which is based on Eurocentric beauty standards and marginalizes women of color. “

When I first started my research I was faced with some disheartening comments, but that didn’t stop me from pursuing something that I felt was extremely important. Being a woman and having dark skin gave me a lived experience that led to some hard-hitting research that more mainstream peers didn’t pursue or prioritize at the time. And so, my experience with coding in a white mask is what really catapulted this research.

When you are in an area where your point of view is not centered, you really need to find a supportive community. I’ve had a really strong support system and great mentors and a really strong foundation, and so I think from the start it’s been very helpful to me. It showed me the importance of having this kind of community, especially as a young woman of color and for girls of color. I encourage anyone who has ideas and wants to enter this space but who are afraid of facing pushbacks to move forward anyway. We still need you.



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