Informatics Guest Speaker Series
Winter Quarter 2020

Friday, February 7, 2020

“A New Jim Code? Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life”

Ruha Benjamin
Associate Professor of African American Studies
Princeton University

Abstract:
Dr. Ruha Benjamin is Associate Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, founder of the JUST DATA Lab, and author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (2013) and Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (2019) among other publications. Her work investigates the social dimensions of science, medicine, and technology with a focus on the relationship between innovation and inequity, health and justice, knowledge and power. Professor Benjamin is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, Institute for Advanced Study, and the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton. For more info visit www.ruhabenjamin.com.

Bio:
From everyday apps to complex algorithms, technology has the potential to hide, speed, and even deepen discrimination, while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to racist practices of a previous era. In this talk, I present the concept of the “New Jim Code" to explore a range of discriminatory designs that encode inequity: by explicitly amplifying racial hierarchies, by ignoring but thereby replicating social divisions, or by aiming to fix racial bias but ultimately doing quite the opposite. We will also consider how race itself is a kind of tool designed to stratify and sanctify social injustice and discuss how technology is and can be used toward liberatory ends. This presentation takes us into the world of biased bots, altruistic algorithms, and their many entanglements, and provides conceptual tools to decode tech promises with sociologically informed skepticism. In doing so, it challenges us to question not only the technologies we are sold, but also the ones we manufacture ourselves.

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