Coded Bias Documentary Review

Brian Eitel
3 min readApr 29, 2021

The documentary Coded Bias tackles the issue of our ever modernizing world and puts a focus on artificial intelligence and the ethical issues surrounding it. One of the main points they bring up in the film is that the algorithms made use the data from our world and since our world has bias, that translates into these algorithms affecting the results. The film starts with Joy Builamwini, a black woman in computer science (who is one of the main people followed in this film) and she discusses how she attempted to create this mirror that would track a persons face and put an inspiring person on it. The issue is that the mirror had trouble reading her own face unless she put a white mask over it. The reasoning is that the computer did not have enough faces from people of color in the algorithm to pick up and register Joy’s face. This introduction to the film pretty much sets the tone for the topics of discussion and the issue with these algorithms.

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There are many different examples of technology that is actually used in our world today that have issues. They primarily focus on facial recognition technology, but they mentioned algorithms used for hiring people. One of the bigger companies that actually used this for a little while was Amazon, and the problem with the technology is that it rejected applications anytime that it was clear that it was from a woman. Which I am sure was an unconscious bias coded into the algorithm from the people of Amazon, but that is not the point. I personally did not realize how little these companies understand their own algorithms and yet still put them out into the world. Sure it needs to be tested out, but when it has a negative effect such as denying applications from all women. That is something that should be caught before used in real life. The problem with using artificial intelligence is that we can never completely understand the way it reasons to draw a conclusion, all we know about is the data provided to draw a conclusion.

Another example of facial recognition technology that the film focuses on is the surveillance aspect of it. It discusses what happened in China where surveillance and facial recognition is a pretty huge issue, enough to where people in China spray paint the cameras black, just because it is an ineffective and invasive form of surveillance. The technology is not perfect accuracy and even if it was, it is still an invasion of privacy and should not be a system put in to place. I thought it was interesting when the film went over to London and followed the Big Brother Watch. The police in London put in facial recognition technology to try and monitor people walking by in the area, and the technology would read their face and attempt to label them as a criminal or not. Obviously not accurate enough to use the technology, but it still was put into place. The other issue is that it profiles people of color, and this brings it back to not only an issue of privacy but an ethical issue of race as well. I just wonder how we allow specific artificial intelligence play a significant role in society when we do not completely understand it. Should we continue to use it? Maybe in aspects of life that bias should not be an issue, but it is tough to sat whether or not we need to pause using AI all together. One thing is for sure, it needs to be better regulated to avoid future ethical mistakes.