Race and Technology: A Research Lecture Series

Race and Technology: A Research Lecture Series

About

Race and technology are closely intertwined, continuously influencing and reshaping one another. While algorithmic bias has received increased attention in recent years, it is only one of the many ways that technology and race intersect in computer science, public health, digital media, gaming, surveillance, and other domains. To build inclusive technologies that empower us all, we must understand how technologies and race construct one another and with what consequences.

You’re invited to join us as we bring together leading voices at the intersection of race and technology for discussions around data, the internet, justice, genomics and more. In this virtual speaker series, connect with the distinguished academics and domain experts who are driving this conversation and reshaping the future of research in tech.

The lectures will be presented monthly from 10 AM to 11 AM Pacific Time on the day of the event and will be followed by a Q&A session with the speaker. Live captioning will be available during the event and recordings of the complete sessions will be available on demand. The presentations and views of external speakers represents their own perspectives and not that of Microsoft.

Speaker lineup

Date Speaker
May 26, 2021 Dr. Sareeta Amrute, Data & Society Research Institute and University of Washington
June 30, 2021 Dr. Kim TallBear, University of Alberta
July 28, 2021 Dr. Charlton McIlwain, New York University
August 18, 2021 Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Princeton University & Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab
September 22, 2021 Dr. Lisa Nakamura, University of Michigan
October 27, 2021 Dr. Simone Browne, University of Texas
November 17, 2021 Dr. André Brock, Georgia Institute of Technology
December 2021 Dr. Sohini Ramachandran, Brown University
January 2022 Dr. C. Brandon Ogbunu, Yale University
February 2022 Dr. Kishonna L. Gray, University of Illinois – Chicago
March 2022 Merisa Heu-Weller, J.D., Microsoft Technology and Corporate Responsibility – Justice Reform Initiative
April 2022 Dr. Desmond Upton Patton, Columbia School of Social Work, Columbia University
May 2022 Dr. Denae Ford Robinson, Microsoft Research and University of Washington
June 2022 Dr. A. Nicki Washington, Duke University

Organizing Committee

Nancy Baym, Senior Principal Research Manager, Microsoft Research
Eleanor Buxton, Community Engagement Program Manager, Microsoft Research Outreach
Jessica Mastronardi, Senior Manager Community Engagement & Partnerships, Microsoft Research Outreach
Charlton McIlwain, Author and Professor, New York University
Chris Morris, Chief of Staff for CMO, Microsoft
Hanna Wallach, Senior Principal Research Manager, Microsoft Research

Microsoft’s Event Code of Conduct

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. This includes virtual events Microsoft hosts and participates in, where we seek to create a respectful, friendly, and inclusive experience for all participants. As such, we do not tolerate harassing or disrespectful behavior, messages, images, or interactions by any event participant, in any form, at any aspect of the program including business and social activities, regardless of location.

We do not tolerate any behavior that is degrading to any gender, race, sexual orientation or disability, or any behavior that would violate Microsoft’s Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policy, Equal Employment Opportunity Policy, or Standards of Business Conduct. In short, the entire experience must meet our culture standards. We encourage everyone to assist in creating a welcoming and safe environment. Please report any concerns, harassing behavior, or suspicious or disruptive activity. Microsoft reserves the right to ask attendees to leave at any time at its sole discretion.

Upcoming Speakers

Acrylic, metal, blue and a means of preparation: Imagining and living Black life beyond the surveillance state

Portrait of Simone Browne

Dr. Simone Browne

Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, and Research Director of Critical Surveillance Inquiry with Good Systems, at the University of Texas at Austin

Date: October 27, 2021 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

This talk is a series of “small comments in no particular order” on the interventions and innovations made by artists whose works grapple with the surveillance of Black life, from policing to encryption, electronic waste, and artificial intelligence. The interventions under study trouble surveillance and its various methodologies, and are “a means of preparation” for imagining and living Black life beyond the surveillance state. (The quoted text is borrowed from Avery F. Gordon’s Hawthorn Archive).

Biography

Simone Browne is Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, and Research Director of Critical Surveillance Inquiry with Good Systems, at the University of Texas at Austin.

She is currently writing her second book manuscript, Like the Mixture of Charcoal and Darkness, which examines the interventions made by artists whose works grapple with the surveillance of Black life, from policing, privacy, smart dust and the FBI’s COINTELPRO to encryption, electronic waste and artificial intelligence. Together, these essays explore the productive possibilities of creative innovation when it comes to troubling surveillance and its various tactics, and imagining Black life beyond the surveillance state. Simone is the author of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness.

A longer version can be found here https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/aads/faculty/sb28889

Learning Materials

On Race and Technoculture

Portrait of André Brock

Dr. André Brock

Associate Professor of Media Studies at Georgia Institute of Technology

Date: November 17, 2021 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

Where does Blackness manifest in Western technoculture? Technoculture is our modern ideology; our world structured through our relationships with technology and culture. Once enslaved, historically disenfranchised, and never deemed literate, Blackness is understood as the object of Western technical and civilizational practices. This presentation is a critical intervention for internet research and science and technology studies (STS), reorienting Western technoculture’s practices of “race-as-technology” to visualize Blackness as technological subjects rather than as “things”. Hence, Black technoculture. Utilizing critical technocultural discourse analysis, Afro-optimism, and libidinal economic theory, this presentation employs Black Twitter as an exemplar of Black cyberculture: digital practice and artifacts informed by a Black aesthetic.

Biography

André Brock is an associate professor of media studies at Georgia Tech. He writes on Western technoculture, and Black cybercultures; his scholarship examines race in social media, videogames, weblogs, and other digital media. His book, *Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures*, (NYU Press 2020), the 2021 winner of the Harry Shaw and Katrina Hazzard-Donald Award for Outstanding Work in African-American Popular Culture Studies, theorizes Black everyday lives mediated by networked technologies.

Learning Materials

Our Genomes, Our Selves?

Portrait of Sohini Ramachandran

Dr. Sohini Ramachandran

Director of Brown University’s Data Science Initiative and Center for Computational Molecular Biology

Date: December 2021 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

The initial draft sequence of the human genome, published in 2001, promised to usher the world towards personalized medicine, in which a patient’s genome is used to diagnosis, treat, and prevent illness. Almost twenty years later, many clinically actionable mutations have been identified and are incorporated into treatment, and medical genomics offers exciting opportunities for data-driven discoveries about the genomic underpinnings of health. As increasingly large genomic datasets merged with medical records become available to researchers and the public turns to direct-to-consumer companies for genomic analysis, challenging humanistic issues surrounding privacy, preexisting conditions, ancestry, and kinship abound. As a human population geneticist, I study the evolutionary forces that produce and maintain genetic variation in our species. I’ll describe a series of fundamental challenges for interpreting results from direct-to-consumer genetic testing and for making personalized medicine a reality for all.

Biography

Sohini Ramachandran has been a faculty member at Brown University since 2010, and is currently Director of Brown University’s Data Science Initiative and Center for Computational Molecular Biology. Research in the Ramachandran lab addresses problems in population genetics and evolutionary theory, generally using humans as a study system. Sohini’s work uses mathematical modeling, applied statistical methods, and computer simulations to make inferences from genetic data. Her lab answer questions like: what loci are under strong adaptive selection in the human genome? are there genetic pathways we can identify that underlie common diseases such as diabetes? does genetic variation account for some ethnic disparities in disease incidence and outcome? what features of human demographic history can we infer from genetic data alone? In additional to being funded by the National Institutes of Health, Sohini has been a Sloan Research Fellow, Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, and an NSF CAREER awardee.

Research area: Epidemiology, population genetics, and evolution

Portrait of C. Brandon Ogbunu

Dr. C. Brandon Ogbunu

Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University

Date: January 2022 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Biography

C. Brandon Ogbunu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. He is a computational biologist whose research investigates complex problems in epidemiology, population genetics, and evolution. His work utilizes a range of methods, from experimental evolution, to biochemistry, applied mathematics, and evolutionary computation.

In addition, he runs a parallel research program at the intersection of science, society, and culture. In this capacity, he writes, gives public lectures, and curates media of various kinds. He is currently an Ideas contributor at Wired, and has written for a range of publications including Scientific American, The Undefeated, Undark, and the Boston Review all on topics at the intersection of science and society.

He has also performed for Story Collider, and was featured on an episode of WNYC’s Radiolab (where he is currently a contributing editor). He was also featured in the Emmy Award winning PBS web series Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings.

Intersectional Tech: Black Praxis in Digital Gaming

Portrait of Kishonna L. Gray

Dr. Kishonna L. Gray

Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois – Chicago

Date: February 2022 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

With this presentation, I explicate the possibilities of synthesizing theories and methods from the disciplines of feminism, critical race, media studies, anthropology, among others in putting forth a critical study of intersectional technoculture. Through ethnographic examples, I demarcate a framework for studying the intersectional development of technological artifacts and systems—a research program that aims at contributing to a greater understanding of the cultural production and social processes involved in digital and technological culture. Using gaming as the glue that binds this project, I put forth intersectional tech as a framework to make sense of the visual, textual, and oral engagements of marginalized users, exploring the complexities in which they create, produce, and sustain their practices. Gaming, as a medium often outside conversations on Blackness and digital praxis, is one that is becoming more visible, viable, and legible in making sense of Black technoculture. Intersectional tech implores us to make visible the force of discursive practices that position practices within (dis)orderly social hierarchies and arrangements. The explicit formulations of the normative order are sometimes in disagreement with the concrete human condition as well as inconsistent with the consumption and production practices that constitute Black digital labor. It is, in fact, these practices that inform the theoretical underpinnings of Black performances, cultural production, exploited labor, and resistance strategies inside oppressive technological structures that Black users reside.

Biography

Dr. Kishonna L. Gray (@kishonnagray), author of Intersectional Tech, is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She is an interdisciplinary, intersectional, digital media scholar whose areas of research include identity, performance and online environments, embodied deviance, cultural production, video games, and Black Cyberfeminism.

Research area: Justice Reform

Portrait of Merisa Heu-Weller

Merisa Heu-Weller, J.D.

Chief of Staff at Microsoft Technology & Corporate Responsibility Group and Senior Director of the Justice Reform initiative

Date: March 2022 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Biography

Since 2013, Merisa Heu-Weller has called Microsoft “home” first as an employment attorney and now in the Technology and Corporate Responsibility (TCR) group in which she wears two hats: Chief of Staff and Senior Director of the Criminal Justice Reform initiative. TCR plays a vital role in realizing Microsoft’s mission by applying the power of advanced technology to address critical societal issues — universal accessibility, environmental sustainability, rural broadband connectivity, responsible AI, and criminal justice reform. Their work helps to transform institutions, communities, and lives around the world, while driving business value and addressing our responsibility to society. Before Microsoft, Heu-Weller clerked at the Washington State Supreme Court for the Honorable Mary Fairhurst followed by an employment litigation practice at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle. Outside of work, she serves as a Trustee for Bellevue College (bellevuecollege.edu), the largest community college in the state of Washington. Merisa received a degree in Political Science from Stanford University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Washington Law School.

Research area: The relationship between youth and violence and social media

Portrait of Desmond Upton Patton

Dr. Desmond Upton Patton

Associate Dean for Innovation and Academic Affairs, founding director of the SAFE Lab and co-director of the Justice, Equity and Technology lab at Columbia School of Social Work

Date: April 2022 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Biography

Dr. Desmond Upton Patton, Associate Dean for Innovation and Academic Affairs, founding director of the SAFE Lab and co-director of the Justice, Equity and Technology lab at Columbia School of Social Work, is a leading pioneer in the field of making AI empathetic, culturally sensitive and less biased.

Research area: Human-Computer Interaction and Software Engineering

Portrait of Dr. Denae Ford Robinson

Dr. Denae Ford Robinson

Senior Research at Microsoft Research and an Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Human-Centered Design and Engineering Department at the University of Washington

Date: May 2022 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Biography

Dr. Denae Ford Robinson is a Senior Research at Microsoft Research in the SAINTes group and an Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Human-Centered Design and Engineering Department at the University of Washington. Her research lies at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction and Software Engineering. In her work, she identifies and dismantles cognitive and social barriers by designing mechanisms to support software developer participation in online socio-technical ecosystems. She is best known for her research on just-in-time mentorship as a mode to empower welcoming engagement in collaborative Q&A for online programming communities including open-source software and work to empower marginalized software developers in online communities.

She received her B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science from North Carolina State University. She also received her Ph.D. in Computer Science and Graduate Minor in Cognitive Science from North Carolina State University. She is also a recipient of the National GEM Consortium Fellowship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellowship.

Her research publications can be found under her pen name ‘Denae Ford’. More information about her latest research can be found on her website.

Research area: The practice of Computer Science

Portrait of Nicki Washington

Dr. A. Nicki Washington

Professor of the practice of computer science at Duke University

Date: June 2022 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Biography

Dr. Nicki Washington is a professor of the practice of computer science at Duke University and the author of Unapologetically Dope: Lessons for Black Women and Girls on Surviving and Thriving in the Tech Field. Her career in higher education began at Howard University as the first Black female faculty member in the Department of Computer Science. Her professional experience also includes Winthrop University, The Aerospace Corporation, and IBM. She is a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University (B.S., ‘00) and North Carolina State University (M.S., ’02; Ph.D., ’05), becoming the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in computer science at the university and 2019 Computer Science Hall of Fame Inductee. She is a native of Durham, NC.

Past Speakers

Racist Tropes and Labor Discipline: How Tech Inherits and Reproduces Global Imaginaries of Race and Work

Portrait of Sareeta Amrute

Dr. Sareeta Amrute

Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington and Director of Research at the Data & Society Research Institute

Date: May 26, 2021 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

How do histories of race and labor make their way into the tech industry? What is the relationship between these histories and the way new ideas and profits are generated in the tech industry more broadly? This talk will approach the question of the relationship between labor and tech through a history of the racialization of Indian IT workers and the temporary workforce they often represent. I will trace antecedents to the current regime of temporary circulating labor in the tech industry by means of plantation economies in the 19th century colonial period and the way that period crystalized a particular relationship between Asianness and labor. Using evidence from dialogues within tech companies, I show how the tropes associated with racializing Asianness continue to circulate, even as Asian tech workers are racialized more broadly as model, automaton-like, engineers. In the latter part of the talk, I will turn to caste discrimination in the global tech industry as a cognate phenomenon to this racialization, which operates within and alongside Asianess.

Biography

Sareeta is a cultural anthropologist exploring data, race, caste, and capitalism in global South Asia, Europe, and the United States. Her book, Encoding Race Encoding Class, was the winner of the Diana Forsythe Prize in Anthropology and the International Convention of Asia Scholars Book Prize. She is at work on a new project, supported by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, on the material and perceptual infrastructures that undergird protest movements, tentatively titled Sensing Dissent. Sareeta received her PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago and is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington and Director of Research at the Data & Society Research Institute.

Learning Materials

The Vanishing Indian Speaks Back: Race, Genomics, and Indigenous Rights

Portrait of Kim TallBear

Dr. Kim TallBear

Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Environment., Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta

Date: June 30, 2021 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

Central to US history is the idea that Indigenous peoples were destined to vanish. It is a cherished national myth that the “red” race simply faded away, leaving empty land for inevitable occupation and development by white civilization. The classic image of “the Vanishing American” illustrates this myth; it graced early twentieth-century novels and movie posters, including a film by the same name. In that image, a stereotypical, nineteenth-century plains “Indian” sits on horseback, facing west into the sun that sets on his epoch. The Indian’s otherwise copper-colored body fades to white or disappears; these are the same outcome. After the Indian wars, white society assumed the Indian would finally die out and politicians tried to hurry things along. The US government mandated assimilation through education, child adoption, employment, and urban relocation programs designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” US policy also defined the Indian out of existence by implementing the racial idea of diminishing “Indian blood quantum.” Such ideas continue to shape American thought, including the genome sciences.

Join University of Alberta Indigenous Science and Technology Studies scholar, Kim TallBear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate), as she examines: 1) how older notions of race continue to influence genome scientists who study Indigenous populations today; and 2) the cultural politics involved in the marketing since the early 2000s of “Native American DNA” tests to an American public searching to appropriate Indigenous “identity.”

Together, you’ll explore:

  • How human population genetics (re)defines “Indigenous” for sampling and study
  • The risks to Indigenous rights posed by racial, including genomic, definitions of Indigeneity
  • Indigenous frameworks that challenge dominant scientific populational/race ideas

Biography

Kim TallBear is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Environment., Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta. She is the author of “Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science.” In addition to studying genome science disruptions to Indigenous self-definitions, Dr. TallBear studies colonial disruptions to Indigenous sexualities. She is a regular panelist on the weekly podcast, Media Indigena, and a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate.

Learning Materials

Computing Technology as Racial Infrastructure: A History of the Present & Blueprint for Black Future(s)

Portrait of Charlton McIlwain

Dr. Charlton McIlwain

Vice Provost, and Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU

Date: July 28, 2021 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

In recent years computing technology stakeholders have increasingly begun to ask questions about how to make our technology less biased, more fair, increasingly equitable, and even explicitly anti-racist. When it comes to how to make this happen, however, we have fewer answers than we do questions — particularly when it comes to thinking about these challenges through the lens of race and ethnicity. If we are to imagine, conceptualize, design and build new technological systems that are anti-racist, the technology community must understand, engage and grapple with the historical paths that lead us to our current point. Our history contains many of the starting points for realizing a significantly different technological future.

For the past decade I have investigated a variety of questions at the juncture of race and technology— from how does racial inequality manifest on the Internet, to how do activists, advocates, and lay citizens mobilize technology affordances to produce racial justice movements, to what is the historical relationship between Black people and technology? This final question serves as the basis for my presentation, which provides a historical narrative that demonstrates how computing technology as an enterprise “became racist” and how it has served to promote racist outcomes.

Audiences will come away from my talk with more insight into how computing technology and race first fused to one another; how that fusion manifests in terms of a key technology problem-design-solution scenario that positioned BIPOC communities as the central problems that new technologies were meant to solve; how this race-as-problem-tech-as-solution scenario laid the foundation for our present-day technology infrastructure that has produced arguably the most racially disparate and destructive outcomes through the institution of law enforcement and policing; and finally, what we must do in order to begin to imagine what systemic, structural technological change might look like— one that provides the infrastructure for more racially just outcomes.

Biography

Charlton McIlwain is the Author of Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, From the Afronet to Black Lives Matter. He is Vice Provost, and Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU. His work investigates the intersections of race and computing technology. He has served as an expert witness in landmark U.S. Federal Court cases on reverse redlining/racial targeting in mortgage lending, and recently testified before Congress about the impacts of automation and artificial intelligence on the financial services industry. McIlwain founded the Center for Critical Race & Digital Studies and heads NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology.

Learning Materials

The New Jim Code: Reimagining the Default Settings of Technology & Society

Portrait of Ruha Benjamin

Dr. Ruha Benjamin

Professor of African American studies at Princeton University, founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab

Date: August 18, 2021 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

From everyday apps to complex algorithms, technology has the potential to hide, speed, and deepen discrimination, while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to racist practices of a previous era. In this talk, Ruha Benjamin presents 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. 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 historical and sociological insight. Ruha will also consider how race itself is a tool designed to naturalize social hierarchies and, in doing so, she challenges us to question not only the technologies we are sold, but also the ones we manufacture ourselves.

Biography

Ruha Benjamin is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab and author of two books, People’s Science and Race After Technology, which was awarded Brooklyn Public Library’s 2020 Nonfiction Prize. She’s also the editor of Captivating Technology. She’s currently working on her fourth book, Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want. She speaks widely about the relationship between innovation, inequity, knowledge and power, race and citizenship, health and justice. For more info, visit www.ruhabenjamin.com

Learning Materials

Women of Color and the Digital Labor of Repair

Portrait of Lisa Nakamura

Dr. Lisa Nakamura

Director of the Digital Studies Institute and the Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan

Date: September 22, 2021 | 10:00 AM–11:00 AM PT

Abstract

Women of color make our digital products. They assemble them in Asian factories and their cheap labor has made the tech industry’s innovation possible. This presentation focuses on their immaterial and knowledge work that contributes directly to the Internet’s usability. Women of color on social media and gaming platforms contribute unpaid labor to call out misogyny, violations of user agreements, and hateful behavior. They lead our most effective and important campaigns against racism from their keyboards. This is piecework in the classical sense, squeezed in between paid work and leisure, it is unpaid, but it is productive. It is unpaid not because it is not valuable, but because of the type of person who is doing it, a type of person who is not treated as a person. This labor of digital repair is exactly the kind of labor that can’t be automated or outsourced.

This presentation will analyze three examples of young women of color’s work as digital documentarians of public racism on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram using a comparative critical race studies approach. Join Lisa Nakamura, founding Director of the Digital Studies Institute at the University of Michigan and P.I. of the DISCO: Digital Inquiry, Speculation, Collaboration, and Optimism Network, a 3-year Mellon-funded 4.8 million dollar collaborative higher education grant, to discuss anti-racist platform building, maintenance, and repair.

Together, you’ll explore:

  • The history of women’s, children’s, and transgender people’s labor as community leaders (CL’s) from America Online to Instagram how they model a high-touch mutual aid-informed digital culture of care.
  • Theoretical and speculative approaches to anti-racist platform alternatives
  • Racial and gendered solidarities and intimacies on visual digital social platforms

Biography

Lisa Nakamura is the Director of the Digital Studies Institute and the Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan. She is the author of several books on race, gender, and the Internet, most recently Racist Zoombombing (Routledge, 2021, co-authored with Hanah Stiverson and Kyle Lindsey) and Technoprecarious (Goldsmiths/MIT, 2020, as Precarity Lab).

Learning Materials

Videos

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