Booker says there will be ‘AI revolution’ – but Black Americans can’t be left behind

“We are all foot soldiers in this next human revolution or evolution of making sure technology is not making us more victims but more victors,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey moderated a discussion on artificial intelligence and the impact it could have on Black communities during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 52nd Annual Legislative Conference.

On Wednesday, Booker hosted the roundtable discussion titled “Artificial Intelligence and Black America: Harnessing the Promise and Mitigating the Harms,” where he and panelists tackled the pros and cons of incorporating artificial intelligence into society. 

UNITED STATES – MAY 11: Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., attends a Senate Judiciary Committee markup in Hart Building on Thursday, May 11, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Participants included Charlotte Burrows, chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Ashley Lawrence, vice president and scientist at Microsoft Research, and Sanmi Koyejo, president of Black in AI.

The New Jersey lawmaker told theGrio, “We not only have to work at the challenges to our community but also start thinking about what the opportunities are.”

“There’s going to be an AI revolution. Not just in America but around the world. And having African Americans as a part of it, as the center of it [and] at the table for it, is really important,” said Booker. 

“We knew with a lot of legislative work I do, from protecting algorithmic fairness all the way to trying to expand opportunity, this was an important conversation.”

Panelists expressed that artificial intelligence could be beneficial in terms of education and improving health care.

Koyejo of Black in AI said artificial intelligence could help “reduce” racial gaps in the education system by personalizing educational programs “to match how you like to learn.”

He said this would benefit Black youth who may struggle to learn in traditional settings.

The panelists also discussed some of the cons of using artificial intelligence during the roundtable talk.

Burrows of EEOC voiced her concern that AI could be discriminatory and prevent Black Americans from obtaining employment. She said that certain AI systems being used in the hiring process at Fortune 500 companies lack the ability to ensure hiring diversity.

“If you are a white male whose name is Jared and you played lacrosse, you’re going to be likely to get the job – and if you’re not, you aren’t,” she explained.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – JULY 06: Human shaped robot Ameca of British manufacturer Engineered Arts interacts with visitors on July 06, 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. Some 3,000 global experts from big tech, education and international organisations will gather at a two-day summit in Geneva organised by the United Nations to discuss artificial intelligence in its potential for empowering humanity. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

Howard Bell, Democratic National Committee convention delegate, told theGrio, “AI is starting to take over our world very quickly, and if we don’t understand all the machinations of what’s going into that, it can quickly get away from us.”

“It’s important to remember that when we engage with social media – whether it’s with Facebook or Instagram – when you agree to their terms and conditions, oftentimes you’re signing away a lot of your rights that go along with that,” said Bell.

“They can take your information [and] your likeness, and they can use it in any way that they want, and that is directly fed into AI, and it directly impacts our privacy and our way of life.”  

Before Booker concluded the CBC panel, the senator emphasized the importance for the Black community to educate itself about artificial intelligence, as technology will continue to advance rapidly in the coming years.

“Yes, it’s about protecting against algorithmic discrimination…some of the ills of our society, but most importantly, it’s about expanding opportunity…freedoms, expanding justice,” he said.

“We are all foot soldiers in this next human revolution or evolution of making sure technology is not making us more victims but more victors.” 

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