Voice Command and the Institutional Racism at Work in Big Tech

This weekend I had the opportunity to engage with a graduate student at the University of Michigan studying Information Sciences. This student’s work focused upon an area that relates to this class in unique ways. As a professional he worked in the field of robotics and A.I., trying to equip African Americans with access to new technologies. Specifically he was working with differently abled individuals who needed voice command to help them do basic tasks such as write or move.

What he found was a systematic bias in voice operated machines that could not understand the accents of some of the African American communities he was working within. This issue led him to return to school and study the systematic biases that exist in technology. He is conducting research to reveal the racial bias at work in big tech.

This is not an issue we have directly tackled in class but it relates to the broader themes of institutional racism we have discussed. Morality and ethics are important, but issues such as this one raise broader concerns regarding institutionalized racism and its pervasiveness today. What does it say about society today that some groups cannot use technologies because of their race/ethnicity?

For those interested, check back in with the post a bit later. I am going to post a link to his work once he provides me with one.

UPDATE: A link to a page displaying some people doing work and research on this topic:


Leave a Reply