U.S. House subcommittee to discuss diversity and bias in tech industry

Diversity in the tech industry – or the relative lack of it – is being discussed in a hearing by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, following expressions of concern by Democrat legislators about the use of facial recognition technology, how biased algorithms can lead to discrimination, and the lack of diversity at tech companies, The Hill reports.

One witness called to the hearing has confirmed her intention to discuss how facial recognition success rates differ between white men and women of color, as MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year.

“The most alarming practice by technology companies is commercializing products that have clear algorithmic bias,” says Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) VP of Policy and Programs Jiny Kim in her written testimony, singling out Microsoft and Amazon for engaging government entities to try and sell those products.

At an event last month, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said: “if you don’t fix the bias, then you are just automating the bias.”

Former Facebook and Twitter manager Mark Luckie is scheduled to testify about the effect of a workforce lacking in diversity on tech products.

The topic of algorithmic bias has received increasing attention over the past year, with companies introducing technologies to detect it, the Algorithmic Justice League calling on facial recognition companies to pledge their adherence to a set of ethical standards, and the Subcommittee on Information Technology of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for the previous Republican-controlled House holding hearings on bias in facial recognition a year ago. California Senator Kamala Harris, who recently declared her intention to run for President in 2020, also wrote several government agencies to ask about bias in facial recognition and AI last year.

The Hill reports that lawmakers are beginning the process of crafting a federal data privacy bill that would give consumers more control over personal data, and that some say should address some issues related to bias.

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