SXSW 2020: Coded Bias

Coded Bias

Coded Bias explores a researcher’s discovery of facial recognition algorithms and how they aren’t accurate for dark-skinned people.

If you’re not familiar with facial racognition software, this film will quickly get you up to speed.  It’s all because of MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini.  Her discovery led to some startling results and in some cases, lack thereof.  Despite her best efforts, there is still no federal regulation of facial algorithms.  Or at least, this was the case leading up to January’s Sundance Film Festival.

It’s no surprise that we depend a lot on machines.  This film makes a strong case against doing so.  Perhaps the one thing that startled me is how faces of elected officials somehow got mistaken for people with mugshots.  And we wonder why so many innocent people get locked up behind bars?!?  You can’t help but not feel bad for so many people as a result.

Algorithms already decide so much of what impacts our life.  I’m looking at you, Facebook!  This film shows who are the leaders when it comes to ethically using facial recognition.  We must commend them for their efforts–especially Joy Buolamwini.  These mathematicians and data scientists are heroes in my book.  This certainly goes without saying!

According to Buolamwini’s research, the facial recognition is mostly correct when it comes to light-skinned faces.  When it comes to dark-skinned faces, the results don’t even come close.  There’s one thing to make of this: the facial recognition software should not be trusted.  Artificial intelligence is no substitute for the real thing.  If this is not a takeaway in viewing the film, I don’t know what is.

We should be starting a national conversation following the documentary.  There are no excuses to place our trust in a software that–suffice it to say–does not work.  The fact that the U.S. Congress is incapable of taking the right action is simply irresponsible.  When we have scientists testifying in the House, why are our elected leaders not listening?  This is simply inexcusable in my book!  Leaders need to lead.  I’m going to stop myself before going on a political tangent.  Regardless, this film presents some strong facts that must be taken into consideration.  It must be stressed that both civil liberties and American democracy are at stake.

Coded Bias shows a hard-fought battle that isn’t lost but it’s not over yet.  There’s still a long way to go.

DIRECTOR:  Shalini Kantayya
FEATURING:  Joy Buolamwini, Cathy O’Neil, Zeynep Tufecki, Meredith Broussard, Safiya Umoja Noble, Silkie Carlo, Ravi Naik, Virginia Eubanks

Coded Bias screens during the 2020 SXSW Film Festival in the Festival Favorites program. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.