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Charting the New Normal


Systemic racial profiling made the news this week thanks to Amazon’s Rekognition software. The issue was brought to the surface by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). ACLU tested Rekognition to see how well it works. They found that Rekognition appeared to be especially flawed when it came to recognizing non-white people.


As it turns out, there is a fair amount of research being conducted on facial recognition software. Little did I know. Current research and literature focuses on two facets. The first is on who is creating the algorithms encoded in the software, which is used in the training of the AI-based software, how is the benchmark data created, and who is involved in the visioning of the software. The second facet of this research investigates the use of facial recognition software at its current state by any and all law enforcement agencies. Some feel that there should be laws governing the use of the software, thinking this would help guide law enforcement agencies and others.


It seems to me that these suggestions are supposed to make up for a lack of corporate responsibility on profiling. With the extensive coverage over the past couple of days, I am left asking myself why is this news?


What exactly is new about systemic racial profiling in our society? I contend that it’s perfectly aligned with other systemic profiling techniques that are prevalent in our societies. To name a few, border harassment of people of colour, the disproportionate number of Aboriginals in Canadian jails, or low percentage of women in leadership positions in technology companies. This isn’t news!


It would be news if we were talking about clever ways of surfacing and including checks on bias in the products we buy, the procedure and policies we follow in the office, the people we read about, or who were arrested over the weekend. Yes, that would be news-worthy. That would be, in fact, new. This isn’t.


The news that we consume is aligned and constructed by our social consciousness. As long as we keep saying that racial profiling is new, we will continue to operate as if that is true. In some circles, this is called denial. We are denying that racial profiling and racial bias are normal in our society. It is normal in the products we buy, normal in the policies of the companies we work for, normal in our café conversations.

It’s the old normal.


What could the new normal look like? Let’s see. The new normal could be that in our corporate brainstorming sessions we include inclusive monitoring as a Quality Assurance (QA) process. Principles of inclusion could be given the same weight as Security processes do in software development QA processes. They are critical to the sound deployment of reliable products. We can do the same with benchmarks of inclusion. The new normal could ensure that a corporate event that we create is accessible to all employees.


Or, normal would be that we watch streaming television shows that discuss our multiple selves that may come out during the course of one day. To explain, yesterday I was a wife, a leader, and a daughter. Each of these roles has types of actions and behaviors associated with it. These may even contradict each other when they are transferred into a difference context. Each of us has identities constructed on various relations, associations, influences, and aspects of ourselves which altogether create who we are on any given day. These might even propose that none of us are stuck in single identities all of the time, heaven forbid. The new normal might even be biased against viewpoints that are stuck in a single context.


Contact me to chart new ways of being (inclusively) normal at margot@margothovey.com

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© 2019 by Margot Hovey, PhD