Published: Feb. 22, 2024

By Iris Serrano

Technology is racist.

If you go

What: “From Artificial Intelligence to Collective Wisdom: Who Gets to Design the Future?” is open to students, faculty, staff and the Boulder community.

When: 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 6. A reception precedes the talk at 4:30.

Where: CASE Chancellor’s Hall and Auditorium

Learn more and add to calendar

While it’s often hailed as a universal good, technology—from A.I., to apps, to algorithms—has long been perpetuating inequalities and advancing discrimination.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to a leading expert on the role science and technology play in shaping society. Ruha Benjamin, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, will deliver a guest lecture at the University of Colorado Boulder next month to kick off both the College of Media, Communication and Information’s new Center for Race, Media and Technology and the Distinguished Speaker Series.

Bryan Semaan, associate professor of information science and associate chair for undergraduate studies, said he expects Benjamin to share insights from her books, which introduce the idea of the “New Jim Code”—a nod to the Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation—and the biases encoded into technology.

“Technology takes on the values of those who create it,” Semaan, founder of the center, said. “Racism is often engineered into the very technology that we're using, but it’s been obfuscated to appear benign, even though that’s far from the truth. Benjamin embodies that intersection of race and technology in her work.”

“Racism is often engineered into the very technology that we’re using, but it’s been obfuscated to appear benign, even though that’s far from the truth.”
Bryan Semaan, associate professor, information science

Benjamin recently published her fourth book, Imagination: A Manifesto, which explores how imagination can disrupt systems of oppression and envision solutions to complex problems. In an interview with The Boston Globe, she said her new book is an extension of her published scholarship.

“Innovation and inequity often go hand in hand; so many people get trampled over in the process,” she said. “I’m motivated to get more people empowered to ask these kinds of questions and to make them feel they have a say, rather than leave things to the experts.”

Lori Bergen, founding dean of CMCI, said Benjamin’s perspectives are especially important for a college that places heavy emphasis on both the use and design of technology.

“At CMCI, technology is an important means of telling our stories and understanding the world around us,” Bergen said. “I hope this talk offers our community of creators and scholars an opportunity to reflect on their relationship with the tools they use and seek ways to bring transparency to technology.”