Fritz Lang’s Metropolis perfected through “Jim Code”

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis perfected through “Jim Code”

Metropolis was shot in black and white and in many ways —that system has not changed

The future of racism —the opening move  which leads to the oppression of all —is already here. W.E.B. DuBois in “Black Reconstruction” (1935) predicted it. More recently, the works of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Derrick Bell, Rita Kohli, Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda, and Gloria Ladson-Billings, the scholars who founded and shaped Critical Race Theory, predicted it. Critical Race Theory states in part that our systems are inherently racist, that for racism and bias to occur, all that needs to happen is that people interact with the system.

“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies… These contradictions are not accidental.”
― George Orwell, 1984

In some circles, there was a belief that computer technology would make things fairer. Science fiction like “Star Trek” showed a future where race was just an interesting detail  not a defining character , but just “a detail ” that was present — like the colors of flowers or trees. A future where white-skinned people of Earth and green-skinned people of Orion could go on dates and make key lime babies. Even the great Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. watched Star Trek and saw the power of it.

You are reflecting what we are fighting for,” said Dr. King to Uhuru played by Nichelle Nichols at a Beverly Hills NAACP dinner in 1966. 

Ursula Le Guin’s “Dispossessed” hinted at this also, but the idealized Anarres also had no authority, no prisons, and no legal system. They did have a guide for collective action —Odonianism, but no rules or laws or institutionalized oppression.

In the West, particularly in the United States, we’re very skilled at taking parts of great ideas that we like and abandoning the rest. The rest —is the support members of the edifice.  Without those support members, the edifice is often unstable and vulnerable to collapse.

And as the West goes, so do the rest —of the world. What we allow to happen here will unfortunately have far reaching consequences past our shores, the US inspired Hitler after all.

America has worked towards an iphone-glow-on-the-highest-brightest-setting Tomorrowland , but it continues to use an imperialist, classist, and racist lens to view and organize society. 

No technology is not created in a vacuum. Technology is not only created by humans but shaped by humans. The wealthy that own corporations that employ the people who create technology are not ignorant of that, even though they imply that we are.

History of oppression in advances of technologies

Frequently advances in technology “delegated” to the “invisible hand of the market” leads to a disembodied flail whipping the workers. This is not because advances in technologies are inherently bad, but because capitalists, industrialists, planters, developers are quick to adapt new technologies for control and exploitation.  

One such an example was the cotton gin, which reduced the physical labor of cleaning cotton. After the invention of the gin in 1794, planters realized their workers could process more cotton more quickly. The slave driving planters soon found more efficient ways to make even more money. New ways that necessitated needing to enslave more Africans and work the already enslaved harder. 

For those descended of the enslaved Africans in the United States stories of the horror of working in the cottonfield in the South, to this day in 2020, continues to bring shivers to the spine.

Then the equally wealthy cousins of the industrialists fund academia via their tax shelter foundation for studies about the reason for outcomes.

The reasons that their studies find are no surprise to the working class.  The surprise —is the amazement that is expressed by the authors.  

Some of the findings include: racism causes poverty (shocking? —Toni Morrison is MY favorite author); homelessnesses causes early death (my god, who would have thought that living out in the elements would kill you, COVID doesn’t spread out there); the unregulated wealthy will not share, no matter how many tax breaks you give them (we’re selfish? that seems somewhat incredulous I gave my nanny an extra dollar an hour to work on Christmas Day!) 

Jim Code” in urban planning policy

In 2015 a D.C. Policy study showed that speed cameras were as biased as human police officers. 

“[A]nalysis of moving violations citations and crash data suggests that the racial geography of D.C. does play into in the enforcement of traffic violations: census tracts with higher proportions of [B]lack residents are associated with a higher incidence of traffic fines, despite not experiencing a greater number of crashes.”

In fact, in D.C., people in a Black-segregated area were 17 more times likely to get a moving violation than white-segregated areas. 

Just as the system doesn’t accidentally imprison more Black people, A.I. is not accidentally racist. Despite what you hear, the system is always purposely racist. 

Artificial Intelligence assigning negative traits to Black names

In 2017 a study published in Science revealed that computer algorithms stereotype humans in the same manner as people. Computer algorithms associated traditional Black names more with negative ideas like “failure” —compared to names that are traditionally viewed as white. This was the case in the United States and the UK.

The algorithms are also sexist, associating professions like a doctor or software developer with men or nurses with women.

Human resource artificial intelligence bias by default

Why does this matter? In addition to creating pictures of people unfairly using solely their designated or perceived race, it can impact job prospects. One algorithm builds on another. Harvard Business Review stated that human resources hiring algorithms “drift toward bias by default.”

In 2015 Amazon scrapped a recruiting tool that favored white men over women. In Reuters, Amazon explained they built the tool to review job applicants’ resumes to mechanize the search for top talent.

Algorithms are not racist by accident. Computer coding is deeply intentional and must be carefully composed and balanced or it doesn’t work.  Racism is coded into inputs, decisions, and outcomes.  They are racist on purpose. Nothing happening now regarding technology is accidentally happening. 

Digital welfare state

In Michigan Governor Snyder, the same Governor that willfully poisoned Flint after being told by scientists if he changed the water source that it would poison people, instituted  Michigan Data Automated System (MiDAS) to run the Michigan Unemployment System. It falsely accused over 40,000 people, disproportionately impacting and accusing Black people of fraud. The accusation resulted in the automatic garnishment of wages, seizing of tax refunds, and social security payments as penalties. Some people committed suicide. The algorithm was wrong 85%-93% of the time. 

During the lawsuit filed in 2018 Bauserman vs. Unemployment Insurance Agency Michigan refused to admit if it was accidental. 

Algorithm bias against African Americans in healthcare

And it doesn’t just stop with matters solely that have to do with labor and finance. It also goes into healthcare. After going through 50,000 patients records, researchers discovered that algorithms favored white patients and actively harmed Black patients with the same ailments. 

“[B]lack people had to be sicker than white people before being referred for additional help. Only 17.7% of patients that the algorithm assigned to receive extra care were black. The researchers calculate that the proportion would be 46.5% if the algorithm were unbiased.”

“Millions of [B]lack people affected by racial bias in health-care algorithms” Nature

Wired reported an algorithm blocked kidney transplants for Black patients. Analyzing the records of 57,000 people with chronic kidney disease including Harvard teaching hospitals Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s. One third to half of Black patients, would have been placed into a more severe category of kidney disease if their kidney function had been estimated using the same formula as for white patients.

2225 African-American patients, 743 (33.4%) would hypothetically be reclassified to a more severe CKD stage if the race multiplier were removed from the CKD-EPI equation. Similarly, 167 of 687 (24.3%) would be reclassified from stage 3B to stage 4.

Journal of General Internal Medicine (2020)

Social media A.I. 150% more likely to flag Black accounts

Artificial Intelligence impacts social media. Leading A.I. flagging social media flagged accounts associated with African Americans as being offensive 150% times more than accounts associated with white users. This is despite an Amnesty International study stating African American women are the most likely to be abused on Twitter and a Pew Center Research study stating young African Americans are more likely to be cyberbullying victims than young white people. Social media is how people market events. Employers look to social media to see if you are trustworthy. Being flagged, banned, or  blocked from your account has wide-reaching implications, that loudly silently speaks to your character. 

ICE had its algorithm purposely configured to detain people in US who are undocumented 100% of the time

In the world of Black and white, shoved into whatever part of the binary that is convenient at the time, there are lighter shades of Brown, Latinos and they are also greatly impacted. ICE had its algorithm configured to detain undocumented predominantly Latino people 100% of the time. People spent months in jail for just being undocumented in the United States. 

Police A.I. had 200 times more arrest in Black and Latino communities regardless of crime rate

PrePol is an artificial intelligence algorithm that predicts crime. According to its website it is currently protecting one out every 33 people in the United States and monitoring the rest. One of the goals of its creation was to help reduce bias. However, PrePol was found to be as harmful as racist human police officers. The Human Rights Data Analysis Group found the algorithm targeted Black and Latino Communities, regardless of the crime rates in the area. 

“These neighbourhoods experience about 200 times more drug‐related arrests than areas outside of these clusters. In contrast, our estimates suggest that drug crimes are much more evenly distributed across the city.” 

To predict and serve?” Kristian Lum and William Isaac

Lenders for home loans knowingly use bias fintech, costing Black and Latino borrowers $765 million yearly

Even getting money to buy a house has come under the eye of artificial intelligence and algorithms. According to Builtin, fintech is a portmanteau of the terms “finance” and “technology” and refers to any business that uses technology to enhance or automate financial services and processes. While the companies that employ fintech has the money to buy nice press, peer studies say something gravely different

Lenders who use fintech charge otherwise-equivalent Latino and African American borrowers 7.9 (3.6) bps higher rates for purchase (refinance) mortgages than white borrowers. This costs Latino and African American borrowers $765 million yearly “The mode of lending discrimination has shifted from human bias to algorithmic bias,” said a fintech study co-author Adair Morse.

These are just a few instances that artificial intelligence has engaged in —actively creating new mechanisms to practice racism and also amplifying racist mechanisms that already exist. There are thousands more in the United States and worldwide. It has been documented that the poor and marginalized in the United Kingdom, India, and Australia are also slowly being pushed into an underground dystopia driven by algorithms. 

The time has come where we move beyond the individual and the workshop. A person’s opinion doesn’t cause racism. A person’s opinion doesn’t cause imperialism.

As always, the foot soldiers on the ground are actually just following orders, they don’t write them and now they are about to be replaced by machines.  Racism is motivated by capitalism and imperialism and its insatiable greed for money and land. Policies are then bought, so that the mechanism to obtain money and land is institutionalized and legitimized. We must cease legitimizing greed and selfishness, whether it is directed by the wealthy through a mechanism that is man or machine.


We need policies that understand technology like A.I., algorithm, etc., is designed by humans. As a community, we need to encourage the creation of algorithms that expand access to justice. Technology could allow for more free time which would support and strengthen family and community life. The algorithm which now purposely masquerade as engagement, but goals are to add to strife —could actually instead be used to support peaceful yet critical dialogue. As a community we should demand that the quality of all life and the preservation of the natural environment, NOT profit and control through surveillance, be the objective of technological advances.

Algorithms designed with an option to oppress and make a profit will ALWAYS harm people. Every example I have shared demonstrates that. We need to disallow de facto racism and sexism in A.I., before it becomes de jure through embedded policy, and if it is allowed to continue on its current path, it will become policy, just like slavery, Manifest Destiny, Jim Crow, modern prisons, and modern immigration policies.

Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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