Denver Film Festival – Coded Bias Film Review

Coded Bias
Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, analyzes AI technology in Coded Bias. Image courtesy of Together Films.
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SYNOPSIS: Modern society sits at the intersection of two crucial questions: What does it mean when artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly governs our liberties? And what are the consequences for the people AI is biased against? When MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini discovers that most facial-recognition software does not accurately identify darker-skinned faces and the faces of women, she delves into an investigation of widespread bias in algorithms. As it turns out, artificial intelligence is not neutral, and women are leading the charge to ensure our civil rights are protected.

Coded Bias brilliantly illustrates the efforts of three female scientists who examine the racial and gender bias in facial recognition technology. Technology that has already been deployed without any government oversight. The film reveals that big tech companies such as Amazon have distributed unreliable facial recognition to the FBI and other enforcement agencies. However, the public assumes the AI is neutral and reliable. After all, how can algorithms include an inherent bias? Coded Bias discloses that the data is historically unequal and explains some of the reasons behind the inherent bias. The ensuing discussion regarding the effects of the bias is extremely compelling. 

Coded Bias reveals AI used in a discriminatory manner by a landlord in New York. Image courtesy of Together Films.

This systemic bias affects so many aspects of life, college admissions, unequal criminal sentencing, police stops without a proper reasonable suspicion, lack of due process. The main focus of the documentary is to educate civil rights leaders so that they can raise the discriminatory issues publicly. Accordingly, the film reveals this must be understood by every civil rights organization as the platforms to fight back against the injustice, which will ultimately adversely impact people of color and women. 

Shalini Kantayya (Director) explained the motivation behind the film, “What was terrifying to me while making Coded Bias was that A.I. not vetted for accuracy or bias are already being deployed at a massive scale to make important decisions about who gets hired, who gets health care, who gets into college or how long a prison sentence someone serves. That shook me out of my seat.”

The story is well constructed and immediately captivating from the very beginning. Kantayya does an incredible job of presenting the information factually and visually. The film is well paced. This documentary is entertaining and eye opening. It is a must watch.

Coded Bias will be released theatrically and via virtual cinema beginning November 11, 2020. Visit Coded Bias for more information. 


About Jillian Dale 73 Articles
Film festival coverage and digital content ninja.

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