Joy Buolamwini
Index Award 2021 Finalists
Algorithmic Justice League
AI’s threats to civil rights and democracy

What’s the design in a nutshell?
A movement uncovering racial and gender bias in AI systems to shift the AI ecosystem towards an accountable, transparent and equitable future.

Why is it needed?
AI has been a force for change in recent years. From SIRI to self-driving cars, it’s opened up doors that many of us could’ve never imagined. But while some AI tools show great promise, they can also harm vulnerable and marginalised people, and even threaten civil rights. Humans can have ingrained and implicit biases’ and, as a product of human intelligence, so too can artificial intelligence. When AI is unchecked and unregulated, AI systems can amplify racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination.

How does it work?
The Algorithmic Justice League’s (AJL) mission is to change the dangerous course AI is on; to establish better standards and ensure AI develops and is used ethically without bias. AJL isn’t just an awareness movement but offers a range of practical solutions to tackle the system. They offer ways to report AI biases, datasets available for AI research, workshops to help educate people about AI bias and harms, and services to audit company AI systems to see how they stack up in terms of ethics.

AJL’s goal is to empower advocates with the tools they need to make a change, support researchers, policymakers, and industry practitioners to mitigate AI harms and biases and, most importantly, build the voice and choice of the most impacted communities.

"Without disruption, AI could be one of the biggest threats to global democracy and social progress."

How does it improve life?
AJL highlights a major design issue: the systems we’ve built benefit some while working against others. Today, AI systems are used to determine who is hired, granted a loan, and even play a role in the quality of healthcare someone receives. Without disruption, AI could be one of the biggest threats to global democracy and social progress. It’s imperative we make sure it works for a diverse society, not just the select few.

What’s the impact to date or projected impact?
Since its beginning in 2016, AJL has inspired a fast-growing movement that gained significant traction in 2020. Founder Joy Buolamwini’s TED featured Talk alone now has over 1.2 million views. 'The Coded Bias' film, featuring AJL’s inspiring beginnings, highlights the stories of people who’ve been impacted by harmful AI application, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020 and is now streaming internationally on Netflix.