Documentary Review: CODED BIAS

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We human beings are at a critical turning point in our politics, economics and social behavior, one that challenges our self-determined way of life, our opportunities for equality, justice and sustainability. Individual accomplishments in all of these arenas of human society are increasingly determined by technology — by programmed algorithms that gather and distribute data about us to government agencies, marketing interests, universities and corporate personnel departments — whether we like it or not, whether we agree with the methodology and process or not, whether it’s actually accurate or not.

In Coded Bias, filmmaker Shalini Kantayya reveals the pervasive extent to which our lives are influenced by a rather small group of highly skilled technocrats and coding pundits. There is little to no general knowledge about who they are and about how they operate — but there is plenty of evidence that the overwhelming majority of them are white and male. And, there is absolutely no regulation about how rapidly developing and ever expanding code that they write is used to influence human behavior and determine privilege.

Concerned commentators — specifically four women of color who hold sway at MIT and other code writer think tanks — blow the whistle on how code is used to create data profiles of all of us and how those profiles determine individual access to opportunities for jobs, education, credit and – based on biased face recognition technology – can lead to false arrest and other egregious abuses.

We might all be in need of and very keen on watching escapist comedies during the ongoing pandemic social restrictions, but this compelling documentary is an important and timely film. Knowledge is power, and Coded Bias delivers knowledge that can help us to resist/reverse the further deterioration of democracy and of human civilization as we know it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Coded Bias is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for November 13, 2020

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