AI May Be the Future, But for Blacks It Continues Problems of the Past

AI May Be the Future, But for Blacks It Continues Problems of the Past


Legislatively Speaking

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Lena C. Taylor

It’s hard to miss all the stories discussing Artificial Intelligence or AI, as it’s called for short. Seemingly, the hottest new thing, the reality is that AI has been around for quite some time. In 1936, a mathematician, computer scientist, and theoretical biologist, by the name of Alan Turing invented the first computer. He questioned, early in his career, the ability of computers to learn or “Can machines think?” Turing was a genius and is considered the pioneer of modern computing and the father of artificial intelligence. Yet, I don’t know if he could have imagined what the world would be doing with AI today.

For the sake of time, I will skip over all the scientific advances that got us to this point. I’ll just say, AI is here and going mainstream. Lay people are beginning to understand the impact, possibilities, and pitfalls that AI can have on every part of our existence. Medical breakthroughs, cyber security, business efficiencies, and so much more, are touted as the upside of the burgeoning technology. But, as with any new miracle drug, self-driving car, or tool, we always have to ask, what’s the downside? Enter Porcha Woodruff.

Ms. Woodruff recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Detroit for false arrest; false imprisonment; and a violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be protected from unreasonable seizures. Using facial recognition software, the Detroit Police Department went to Woodruff’s home to arrest her on a suspected carjacking charge. Never mind that she was 8 months pregnant when officers converged on her home and arrested her in front of two young children. It seems that Woodruff, who is Black, was not the first to be wrongfully arrested.

Through flawed or biased algorithms, datasets, and default camera settings not optimized to capture darker skin, Black people have run into problems with AI Facial Recognition software and the justice system. No one is tracking who and how often this technology is being used. However, the Pew Research Center found that a single provider indicated they had 3,100 law enforcement agencies as clients. This is again an example of the law needing to catch up to technology.

As legislators have been educated about the issues, resolutions or bills are cropping up around the country. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in the 2023 legislative session, at least 25 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia introduced artificial intelligence bills, and 14 states and Puerto Rico adopted resolutions or enacted legislation. We’ve yet to fully tackle AI rules in Wisconsin. Yet, we realize that AI can have an outsized influence even on our upcoming elections. The Federal Election Commission just decided to seek public comment on fake material in political ads.

AI may be the future, but for too many, it exacerbates the problems of the past. We need a commission to address that.

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