BY REP. ALMA ADAMS (D-N.C.), WAYNE A. I. FREDERICK, AND JASON OXMAN
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is an integral part of our daily lives, work, and existence. AI-driven medical diagnostics alert doctors to early warning signs of diseases and conditions, allowing them to provide better treatment for patients and save lives. AI improves the way companies, governments, and other organizations solve the world’s most difficult cybersecurity problems, keeping sensitive networks and data safe. It enables banks and card networks to monitor large volumes of financial transactions and more efficiently identify fraud – and alert consumers in real time. AI helps individuals qualify for credit cards, loans, and mortgages through risk assessments of customers without existing credit, expanding financial opportunities for those who might otherwise be left out.
While the potential benefits of AI technologies are enormous, it is impossible to fully predict the future impact. We know the troubling implications of reported bias in facial recognition technology and in the criminal justice system, for example. Given the reach of AI and its significant life-altering implications – particularly when the civil liberties and freedoms of individuals are at stake – we must address the complex issues the technology presents, including mitigating bias, inequity, and other potential harms. That’s why it is incumbent upon industry, policymakers, educators, and communities to work together to ensure AI is built and deployed for the benefit of everyone.
Ensuring diverse perspectives inform the development of algorithms and data sets to accurately reflect the communities we live in is essential to avoiding biased or skewed results. And that’s only possible if those creating and implementing these technologies, from the C-Suite to software engineers, are from all backgrounds.
The tech sector has made some strides with regards to diversity in recent years, but there is more work to do. With an industry as vibrant and consequential as tech, the importance and the benefits of a diverse workforce are magnified.
Leading the charge to diversify the tech sector is the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Caucus. The Caucus’ second annual Diversity in Tech Summit highlights the role that HBCUs have in diversifying the tech talent pipeline. HBCUs, while representing less than 3 percent of colleges and universities in the country, contribute more than $1.5 billion to our national economy, and graduate 42 percent of the nation’s African-American engineers, 47 percent of all African-American female engineers, and 50 percent of all black professionals.
HBCUs are a key part of diversifying the tech industry. Working with stakeholders, the tech sector must be an active and engaged partner in this effort to ensure companies are not only recruiting HBCU graduates, but also investing in HBCUs to create long-term solutions that will reshape America’s workforce and help address the challenges that come with innovation. That’s why the Diversity in Tech Summit is so important. The Summit brings together 46 leading tech companies, 34 HBCU educators and leaders, and members of Congress for collective conversations around tech diversity and preparing students of color for careers within emerging technologies, like AI and quantum computing.
While diversifying the pipeline is an important foundational element of addressing the challenges of emerging technology, it’s not the only step. Tech companies must promote transparency and interpretability in decision-making, maintain trust, and ensure safety in deployment of AI technology, whether it is for purposes of hiring, medical use, or helping a consumer order a product online.
Governments, communities, academia, and industry must work together to figure out how we can deploy AI and emerging technologies in a responsible way and address potential negative consequences so that everyone can realize the transformative benefits. A representative tech workforce is essential to this effort. We are committed to advancing this important dialogue and turning our ideas into real and meaningful action.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill on July 29, 2019. You can find the original version here.
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams is co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus. Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA, is president of Howard University. Jason Oxman is president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI).