NZIFF 2020 – Coded Bias REVIEW
NZIFF 2020 – Coded Bias REVIEW
Director – Shalini Kantayya
We’re being snooped on big time and there are few laws to protect us from the evils of this new AI technology. GARY STEEL is worried.
If the idea of watching a documentary about the perils of AI makes the eyes roll into the back of your head, you’re not alone. I had to give myself a stern talking on this occasion. Computers rock the world but I want to use them, not think about them, and worrying about what dweebs in tall buildings are doing with the information gleaned from internet activity has never been one of my priorities.
At first, my suspicions that Coded Bias would be a predictable yawn-fest seemed to be confirmed, as the first 10 minutes or so focuses on the “coded bias” of facial recognition systems in regards to people with darker skin tones. Because online photographic systems had difficulty rendering clarity in images of “people of colour”, the assumption is that nasty middle-aged white men were coding these systems to be suitable only to “white people”.
I couldn’t help wondering whether this was really a “coded bias” or just reflective of the difficulty cameras have with darker objects. Heck, I have the same issue when I try to take pussy pics of my black cat.
Any misgivings I had about Coded Bias were rather quickly erased, however, as the cumulative evidence of misuse of algorithms and surveillance technology grew. It helps that the central character is Joy Buolamwini, a beautiful and articulate young computer scientist whose presentation is compelling.
Ultimately, however, the problem unleashed by AI is much bigger than gender or racial bias, and the film gets stuck into the two big issues: surveillance and lawlessness. Surveillance by authorities is one major concern, as the technology has snuck in without any laws to protect an individual’s freedom. We learn that while a person has to give police permission to take their fingerprint, no such law exists in regards to facial recognition surveillance technology.
A brief section deals with the way the Chinese government is using facial recognition AI to manipulate society into complete conformism. A minor crime will have huge ramifications for employment, relationships and even the ability to travel on public transport. Alarmingly, when propagandised citizens are interviewed they support the system. Naturally, we’re concerned that this kind of technology is being used in the West by stealth.
But surveillance and cross-collaboration by authorities, we are told, is only another facet of the technology that’s used against us already via social media. Personally, my attitude to information-gathering AI has always been ambivalent: “I’ve got nothing to hide anyway,” I say to my dwindling set of ‘friends’. Coded Bias has altered my perspective by deftly exposing the vast amount of information gathering going on and how the information is shared by big business and who knows who or what else.
Coded Bias makes the salient point that this technology has developed free of the usual legislation that enshrines our freedom from snooping. One of the more sobering revelations is the way algorithms are built to exploit the poor and disenfranchised. For instance, people on the lower echelons of society are relentlessly targeted by pokies and other unscrupulous businesses.
It’s not a barrel of laughs, but Coded Bias intelligently and clearly explains the dangers of rampant AI that too many of us – myself included – have turned a blind eye to.
* Coded Bias is available to stream online from July 10 to August 5.
Check out Witchdoctor’s New Zealand International Film Festival reviews: