2020 Milwaukee Film Festival: “CODED BIAS”
Among the more intriguing documentaries at the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival which takes a deep look at the troubling aspects of facial recognition technology and unregulated algorithms. It’s a topic that affects all our lives, yet the public discussion on the more troubling aspects has not been delved into yet.
CODED BIAS has a very simple premise. That we have to be careful that the faith we place in algorithms isn’t misplaced simply because it’s “math”. Without oversight, we may simply be training the algorithms to duplicate the injustices and biases of the world today.
Those fears are voiced most effectively by Joy Buolamwini. Wearing Wakanda earrings, she comes off as concerned but not a strident scold. Coming at the angle of wondering why a piece of facial recognition software didn’t work very well with her face, she digs deep into the code and finds some troubling aspects, the code is very good at recognizing while male faces, but not so good at recognizing black female faces. Imagine, software created by predominantly white male software engineers doesn’t work as well on people outside that grouping. It’s not necessarily conscious bias, but it’s there.
From that innocent start, we go into the more troubling aspects of new technology. Can it be used by bad operators? Undoubtedly yes. Does it tie into a surveillance state? Maybe not as overt as China, but what are the implications? And what if this technology isn’t as good as it purports to be? And what are we going to do about it?
These are all big questions. It would be enough to bring them up, but CODED BIAS also manages to be an interesting and entertaining film in its own right. Joy Buolamwini is always a bright spot, but the film weaves in famous scenes from movies to talk about the implications, 2001 and MINORITY REPORT especially, but all of them keep the film lively and fast moving.
CODED BIAS is a strong documentary that digs deep but is never boring or strident. It’s an important topic that starts a conversation that we should be having as a country and a democracy. Too bad that’s not part of the election debate.
CODED BIAS is streaming throughout the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival which runs from October 15 to 29, 2020. Tickets to individual films and passes to the festival as a whole can be purchased via Milwaukee Film.