Faculty News

Exploring How Technology Intersects with Race

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly apparent that technology plays a large role in everyday life. But how does technology touch all facets of life? How does it intersect with inequities in society?

H. V. Jagadish, director of the Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS) and Bernard A. Galler Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, answers those questions and explains his research around information management and data equity systems in this episode of Michigan Minds.

Jagadish says that data-driven systems can provide value and efficiency, but that they should be used in ways that ameliorate rather than magnify the inequities in society.

“The basic idea is that there are issues of equity in society and data is not neutral—it reflects and sometimes magnifies these inequities,” he says. “We’re trying to develop technology components for data equity systems. These are parts of a solution that provide mechanisms or algorithms that enhance equity.”

Jagadish adds that when looking at inequities in society, race is a major one, and that often gets reflected in data.

“Whatever decisions one might be making, those data-driven decisions are likely to be influenced heavily by what has been observed,” he says.

He explores some examples, including a visual analysis like labeling photographs, explaining that the algorithms that deal with this are trained on a variety of faces—but it matters which color and tone are in the dataset it learns from.

“One has to think consciously about the different ways in which the world today is inequitable and make sure that the systems constructed are designed to address these inequities and not just reflect them,” Jagadish says.

Learn more from Jagadish in this episode of Michigan Minds.