Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Says Algorithms Can Be Racist. Here’s Why She’s Right.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said that algorithms can perpetuate racial inequities.

Last week, newly elected U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines when she said, as part of the fourth annual MLK Now event, that facial-recognition technologies and algorithms “always have these racial inequities that get translated, because algorithms are still made by human beings, and those algorithms are still pegged to basic human assumptions. They’re just automated. And automated assumptions — if you don’t fix the bias, then you’re just automating the bias.”

Does that mean that algorithms, which are theoretically based on the objective truths of math, can be “racist?” And if so, what can be done to remove that bias? [The 11 Most Beautiful Mathematical Equations]

It turns out that the output from algorithms can indeed produce biased results. Data scientists say that computer programs, neural networks, machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) work because they learn how to behave from data they are given. Software is written by humans, who have bias, and training data is also generated by humans who have bias.

The two stages of machine learning show how this bias can creep into a seemingly automated process.  MORE