S. Craig Watkins: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Racial Justice

S. Craig Watkins: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Racial Justice


S. Craig Watkins TEDxMIT


In this talk, MIT MLK Visiting Professor S. Craig Watkins addresses one of the fundamental challenges in the AI Ethics debate: computational models that discriminate against marginalized populations. As the adoption of AI infiltrates more high stakes sectors such as policing, employment, health, and financial lending how do we build models that address systemic racism? The tech sector and researchers have focused on creating “fair” algorithms but Watkins asks, “what constitutes fairness in the context of structural racism?” The talk pushes the developers and adopters of AI to think in more nuanced ways about ethical and responsible AI and how these systems can be a force to eliminate rather than perpetuate structural inequities.

S. Craig Watkins is the Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the Founding Director of the Institute for Media Innovation. His research focuses on the impacts of media and data-based systems on human behavior, with a specific concentration on issues related to systemic racism. He is the author of six books and several articles and book chapters examining the intersections between race, technology, and society. His research also considers how diverse communities seek to adopt and deploy technology in innovative ways that address data literacy, civic life, and health. This work has been supported by the MacArthur Foundation.

Currently, Watkins is leading a team that will address the issue of artificial intelligence and systemic racism in a new six-year program funded by the Office of Vice President for Research at the University of Texas at Austin. The team will focus on the broad and fundamental scientific challenge of achieving racially equitable AI, while being grounded in testing the applicability of specific methods, models, processes, and procedures in critical domains like health and transportation. A key component of the research is to examine how various stakeholders—developers of technologies, the private and public sectors, and citizens—can work to create a more equitable AI future. 

This talk was presented in December 2021 to a local audience at a TEDxMIT event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.