Coded Bias

Data scientists, mathematicians, and ethicists fight to expose the threats to civil liberties posed by an increasingly data-driven, automated world.

Independent Lens
Premiere Date
March 22, 2021
90 minutes
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2020 NAACP Image Award-Outstanding Documentary (Film)
  • Director

    Shalini Kantayya

    Filmmaker Shalini Kantayya’s, Coded Bias, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. She directed for the National Geographic television series Breakthrough, Executive Produced by Ron Howard, broadcast globally in June 2017. Her debut, Catching the Sun, premiered at the LA Film Festival and was named a NY Times Critics’ Pick. Catching the Sun Show more released globally on Netflix on Earth Day 2016 with Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio, and was nominated for the Environmental Media Association Award for Best Documentary. Kantayya is a TED Fellow, a William J. Fulbright Scholar, and an Associate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Show less

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    The Film

    In London, police are piloting the use of facial recognition technology; in New York City, teachers are evaluated via algorithm; Hangzhou, China is quickly becoming a model for city-wide surveillance; during Brexit, voters were inundated with false information fed to them through algorithms that violated electoral law. Artificial intelligence has already permeated every facet of public and private life—automating decisions about who gets hired, who gets health insurance, and how long a prison term should be—theoretically casting analyses and insights that are free from human prejudice. However, as MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini discovers, most facial recognition does not see dark-skinned faces or women with accuracy, leading to the harrowing realization that the very machine learning algorithms intended to avoid prejudice are only as unbiased as the humans and historical data programming them. As Founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, Buolamwini aims to create a movement towards accountability and transparency, even testifying to Congress to push for the first-ever legislation governing facial recognition in the United States. In mapping her transformation from scientist to tireless advocate, Coded Bias sheds light on the impacts of bias in AI on civil rights and democracy around the world. Joy Buolamwini is just one among a cohort of international data scientists, mathematicians, and ethicists fighting to expose the threats to civil liberties posed by an increasingly data-driven, automated world.