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Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What Is Human in a World of Machines (Hardcover)
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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • “The conscience of the AI revolution” (Fortune) explains how we’ve arrived at an era of AI harms and oppression, and what we can do to avoid its pitfalls.
“Dr. Joy Buolamwini has been an essential figure in bringing irresponsible, profit-hungry tech giants to their knees. If you’re going to read only one book about AI, this should be it.”—Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation
Winner of the Inc. Non-Obvious Book Award
To most of us, it seems like recent developments in artificial intelligence emerged out of nowhere to pose unprecedented threats to humankind. But to Dr. Joy Buolamwini, who has been at the forefront of AI research, this moment has been a long time in the making.
After tinkering with robotics as a high school student in Memphis and then developing mobile apps in Zambia as a Fulbright fellow, Buolamwini followed her lifelong passion for computer science, engineering, and art to MIT in 2015. As a graduate student at the “Future Factory,” she did groundbreaking research that exposed widespread racial and gender bias in AI services from tech giants across the world.
Unmasking AI goes beyond the headlines about existential risks produced by Big Tech. It is the remarkable story of how Buolamwini uncovered what she calls “the coded gaze”—the evidence of encoded discrimination and exclusion in tech products—and how she galvanized the movement to prevent AI harms by founding the Algorithmic Justice League. Applying an intersectional lens to both the tech industry and the research sector, she shows how racism, sexism, colorism, and ableism can overlap and render broad swaths of humanity “excoded” and therefore vulnerable in a world rapidly adopting AI tools. Computers, she reminds us, are reflections of both the aspirations and the limitations of the people who create them.
Encouraging experts and non-experts alike to join this fight, Buolamwini writes, “The rising frontier for civil rights will require algorithmic justice. AI should be for the people and by the people, not just the privileged few.”
About the Author
Dr. Joy Buolamwini is the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, a groundbreaking researcher, and a renowned speaker. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Time, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and The Atlantic. As the Poet of Code, she creates art to illuminate the impact of artificial intelligence on society and advises world leaders on preventing AI harms. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Rhodes Scholarship, the inaugural Morals & Machines Prize, and the Technological Innovation Award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Her MIT research on facial recognition technologies is featured in the Emmy-nominated documentary Coded Bias. Born in Canada to Ghanaian immigrants, Buolamwini lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“This revelatory book exposes the myriad, deeply ingrained biases encoded into facial recognition and other ‘trusted’ AI systems, pushing us to confront our blind trust in the machines that are taking over our lives. In describing how she conquered her own demons along her path towards justice for all, Dr. Joy Buolamwini offers a deeply felt, stirring call to action for ethical AI—a must-read for those who want a world in which technology serves humanity.”—Maria Ressa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, CEO and president of Rappler
“In a world plagued by AI harms and threats to our civil rights, Dr. Joy Buolamwini has been an essential figure in bringing irresponsible, profit-hungry tech giants to their knees. Unmasking AI is an inspiring story about her journey from precocious student to groundbreaking pioneer in a field where women like herself are often rendered invisible. If you’re going to read only one book about AI, this should be it.”—Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation
“Joy Buolamwini is a unique and powerful intellectual force, and this book explains why. We are honored to follow her on each step of her journey from an earnest and diligent grad student to an outspoken and celebrated role model for algorithmic justice, rooting for her and likewise for our combined future.”—Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction
“Unmasking AI shows Dr. Joy Buolamwini’s unmatched ability to break down complex topics for a wide audience. While taking us through her journey from a curious scientist excited by the possibilities of AI to one who uncovers its harms, Buolamwini breaks down the past, present, and future of AI harms in a manner that allows everyone to understand and participate in resisting them. This book is yet another artifact of her excellence.”—Timnit Gebru, founder of Distributed AI Research Institute and co-founder of Black in AI
“Through stories that are both personal and deeply relevant for all of humanity, Dr. Joy Buolamwini brings wit and clarity to the punishing reality of AI bias. Unmasking AI illuminates achievable paths for the world’s future that are far more promising and just than our current trajectories.”—Megan Smith, former chief technology officer of the United States, member of the National Academy of Engineering, and CEO of shift7
“This is as much a memoir as it is a clarion call for change. Unmasking AI belongs alongside Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction and Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression as essential warnings for our time. It’s an important corrective to our unquestioning embrace of technology.”—Booklist starred review
“[A] trenchant debut . . . Buolamwini proves that she’s among the sharpest critics of AI, and her list of principles for achieving ‘algorithmic justice,’ which includes the stipulation that ‘people have a voice’ in shaping the algorithms that influence their lives, charts a path forward. Urgent and incisive, this is a vital examination of AI’s pitfalls.”—Publishers Weekly