Poole’s Fay Cobb Payton Joins the Fight Against Biased Algorithms in Technology Today

Fay Cobb Payton captured by Essence Magazine.

This article was originally published by Essence Magazine on Nov. 12, 2019, and written by Sherrell Dorsey. It is a part of their ongoing series #BlackWomenIn where they speak to industry and government leaders who are at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Featured is Fay Cobb Payton, professor of information technology and business analytics at the Poole College of Management. 

The robots are here. They help us check out at the grocery store, target us with timely ads on Instagram for a new pair of shoes, turn off our lights at a simple voice command and even determine the songs we’re most apt to enjoy on our favorite music streaming platforms.

Though technology has given us more convenience, connection and access than ever before, the algorithms hidden beneath its seemingly harmless code, the algorithms shaping our lives, are also grossly discriminating against our community—and all too often with impunity. If you think this doesn’t affect you, think again.

By rooting out bias in technology, these Black women engineers, professors and government experts are on the front lines of the civil rights movement of our time.

For us, unchecked technology shows up as police departments disproportionately deploying facial recognition software within marginalized communities to target criminal behavior, or Black people being tagged as gorillas in Google image searches, or Facebook approving housing ads that are filtered to prevent them being marketed to minorities.

These practices are what Princeton University associate professor Ruha Benjamin, Ph.D., refers to as “the New Jim Code.” In her book Race After Technology, Benjamin explains that tech fixes often hide, speed up and even deepen discrimination, furthering racial stereotypes and codifying the very biases that human programmers place to create the technology.

Fortunately, four Black women are holding the code and its creators accountable. By rooting out bias in technology, these Black women engineers, professors and government experts are on the front lines of the civil rights movement of our time.

Fay Cobb Payton, Ph.D.

A longtime researcher and expert in the field of information and decision systems, Payton has been asking tough questions through her research on Black women’s access to education and technical tools to address health disparities, including HIV and mental health. She examines issues around inclusion in technology innovation, workforce and entrepreneurship.

“I look at the roles of skills of health professionals and the risks associated with training AI systems to understand who will be the most impacted by disease,” explains Payton. Aside from her research, Payton serves on the faculty at North Carolina State University and works on behalf of the National Science Foundation, directing grants to deepen knowledge in computing and finding ways to foster greater inclusion within the industry.

Read more profiles at Essence.

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