Write off Beauty AI

But the question for us is, is there only one theory of the mind, and whose mind is it modeled on?

It may be tempting to write off Beauty AI as an inane experiment or harmless vanity project, an unfortunate glitch in the otherwise neutral development of technology for the common good. But, as explored in the pages ahead, such a conclusion is naïve at best. Robots exemplify how race is a form of technology itself, as the algorithmic judgments of Beauty AI extend well beyond adjudicating attractiveness and into questions of health, intelligence, criminality, employment, and many other fields, in which innovative techniques give rise to newfangled forms of racial discrimination. Almost every day a new headline sounds the alarm, alerting us to the New Jim Code:

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“Some algorithms are racist”

“We have a problem: Racist and sexist robots”

“Robots aren’t sexist and racist, you are”

“Robotic racists: AI technologies could inherit their creators’ biases”

Racist robots, as I invoke them here, represent a much broader process: social bias embedded in technical artifacts, the allure of objectivity without public accountability. Race as a form of technology – the sorting, establishment and enforcement of racial hierarchies with real consequences – is embodied in robots, which are often presented as simultaneously akin to humans but different and at times superior in terms of efficiency and regulation of bias. Yet the way robots can be racist often remains a mystery or is purposefully hidden from public view.

Consider that machine-learning systems, in particular, allow officials to outsource decisions that are (or should be) the purview of democratic oversight. Even when public agencies are employing such systems, private companies are the ones developing them, thereby acting like political entities but with none of the checks and balances. They are, in the words of one observer, “governing without a mandate,” which means that people whose lives are being shaped in ever more consequential ways by automated decisions have very little say in how they are governed.