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UT researchers working to address racial bias in AI

S. Craig Watkins gives a talk on AI and the future of racial justice. (YouTube)

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are looking at how to fix errors with Artificial Intelligence as the technology continues to seep into our everyday lives.

The rise of computational models in sectors like policing, employment, health and financial lending has come under fire in recent years over concerns that it perpetuates structural inequities. But a professor at the University of Texas at Austin is working to change that.

S. Craig Watkins is part of a team that's tackling the issue of AI and systemic racism in a program at UT. Ahead of MLK Day, Watkins shared a TEDx Talk he gave on AI and the future of racial justice.

The tech sector and researchers have focused on creating “fair” algorithms but Watkins asks, “What constitutes fairness in the context of structural racism?”

To understand how AI can be improved, Watkins directs the audience and viewers to facial recognition systems, which have demonstrated racial and gender bias, as an example.

In 2020, a man in Detroit was arrested for a crime he didn't commit due to a faulty facial recognition match.

"It's circumstances like this that raise the alarm around the world about the importance of these technologies and the ways in which if we're not careful, they can replicate the systemic forms of inequality that we oftentimes hear and talk about," Watkins said.

He added that addressing these problems with AI goes further than with the people who are building the systems. AI literacy is also important for people who are utilizing it in various sectors.

The software and computational systems that they're using, Watkins said, could have problems like not being based on a representative dataset.

"They may be designed in a way that leads to these unintended outcomes or unintended circumstances that lead to people being wrongly accused for crimes that they didn't commit," Watkins said. "That leave people on the margins of our society even though that wasn't necessarily your intent."

This returns to the aim of the initiative at UT, which is to study new technologies and mitigate their harms while still leveraging the benefits of AI. The group's 2020 annual report noted they had been awarded $1.9 million in external fundraising and over $1 million in internal funding.

As a closing thought, Watkins asked the audience, "how do we train the next generation of people who will be using these systems to make sure that they make decisions that are ethical, responsible and in some ways address these systemic inequalities?"

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Food festival and backyard pool party: Things to do in Austin this weekend


🗓 Thursday

🎻 ACL Radio & Long Center Present: The Drop-In

Relax on the lawn at the Long Center while you listen to some tunes from The Octopus Project. This is the last free concert on the lawn for the rest of summer!

8 p.m. Thursday | 📍The Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W Riverside Dr.

🗓 Friday

🏡 Austin Fall Home & Garden Show

This “dynamic” showcase of the newest trends in home and garden decoration, renovation and services is returning to Austin with special appearances from HGTV Unsellable Houses stars Leslie Davis and Lyndsay Lamb. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door.

Various times Friday-Sunday | 📍Austin Convention Center, 500 E Cesar Chavez St.

🎸 Father John Misty

Don’t miss this highly-articulate indie-folk artist on his “Chloë and the Next Twentieth Century” tour while he plays for the audience under the stars. Suki Waterhouse opens the stage at 7 p.m. and tickets are still available starting at $28.50.

Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday | 📍Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park, 1401 Trinity St.

🗓 Saturday

🧚 Take The Magic Home With You: Faerie Garden Workshop

Get up bright and early to learn how to make your own faerie garden in your backyard, with supplies provided by the Conservancy. Tickets are $6 and you can choose to add your home to the Woodland Faerie Trail.

8-11 a.m. Saturday | 📍Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Rd.

🍷 Fareground Food and Wine Festival

Collect your passport upon arrival and collect up to 10 specialty “stamps” as you explore bites from each of the restaurants, plus wine from DRINK and Ellis. Tickets are $45.

4-8 p.m. Saturday | 📍Fareground Austin, 111 Congress Ave.

🎹 Us & Them Presents: The Beatles Tribute Night

Calling all Beatles fans—Hotel Vegas is bringing local musicians, like Como Las Movies and P.T. Banks, together to play covers of the famous band’s songs. Cover is $10 and this event is 21 and up.

8:30 p.m. Saturday | 📍Hotel Vegas, 1502 E 6th St.

🗓 Sunday

🍖 BBQ Pool Party at the Carpenter Hotel

There’s still time to soak up some summer at this classic backyard barbecue, complete with cocktails, pool food, ice cream, live music from El Combo Oscura and good vibes. Tickets are $55 each.

1-6 p.m. Sunday | 📍Carpenter Hotel, 400 Josephine St.

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