Episode 4: Meet Guest Speaker Mutale Nkonde
By Ronald J. Coleman
Our fourth episode, “Artificial Intelligence and Bias”, features guest speakers Mutale Nkonde, Todd Marlin, and Avi Gesser. I asked our guests to “tell us a little bit about themselves, what they do and how they got there.” Mutale said:
“So in this iteration of my career, I’m running a communications firm. And what we do, it’s called AI For the People, is that we really produce content that helps general audiences, focused on black audiences specifically, understand not just how AI is used, but the racial and civil rights implications of that use. And in the hope that they can look to ways for addressing that. So, for example, you said in your introduction that you had been speaking about facial recognition. We’d partnered with Amnesty International in January of 2021 on a film that helped kind of launch their campaign. I got here, really, from a tech perspective in quite a traditional way. About a decade ago, I was approached by a friend. They were looking to recruit for a company called Google. I did not know what that was. I thought that was a really dumb and stupid name. But they were looking for people who could communicate to New York City, where I live, about the benefits of having the company in the city. And I partnered with a national nonprofit and worked with them and their external relations team. And that’s kind of a subsidiary of what they call policy now. So spent a good amount of time learning about tech products, learning about AI, and then speaking to policymakers around what Google was doing. Quickly found out that there were racial justice implications, not just in hiring, that was the big conversation in 2011, but the technologies themselves and how it could be encoded with decision-making statistical models that led to racist outcomes. And then in 2016, Cathy O’Neil published Weapons of Math Destruction, which is how I got into research because she was really pointing to bias in that book. And published a report on racial bias in technology and have done academic writing, press, television. I come from journalism, so I’m kind of back there now. But it’s been a real bumpy ride when I think that my first job was as a tech evangelizer. And I loved working in the industry at that time.”
Interested in hearing more? Check out Episode 4 here (available September 23, 2021).