Data ethicists discuss how technology affects racism at week-long public event

Grand Rapids, Michigan — Renée Cummings, a leading data ethicist and criminal justice consultant, is coming to Grand Rapids next week for an open series on how data can create bias.

She will discuss how the use of biased data, especially as it relates to technology, affects systemic racism.

“Breaking Data Injustice” is a week-long exploration of how the use of data contributes to racial disparities in criminal justice and incarceration, education, employment, health care and other community systems.

The series is open to the public and will begin on Monday, November 1. The 14th runs through Thursday, November 14th. 17 Host events at various locations.

The initiative is led by The Delta Project, the Grand Rapids NAACP, the Western Michigan Chapter of the American Public Relations Association, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Valley State University and a consortium of tech businesses. Delta Project.

Cummings is a former journalist and public relations practitioner, professor of the practice of data science, and the first resident data ethicist at the University of Virginia.

According to the press release, she studies the impact of algorithms and artificial intelligence on criminal justice, particularly in communities of color and incarcerated populations.

“Organizations need to develop a culture that is ethical, open and committed to issues such as accountability, transparency and explainability,” Cummings said.

“We need to understand bias and discrimination, and how our data needs to be reimagined and redefined. Wherever you are, you represent several communities with different aspects – in your industry or profession, you actively support groups, your community, your school and your home.”

“We need people on the front lines who understand the action, where technology is designed, developed and deployed, and where there is a debate on how to do it ethically.”

Below is a list of disruptive data injustice incidents open to the public:

  • Monday, November 14: Grand Canyon State University Breaking Data Injustice: An Evening with Renée Cummings, More info here from 5pm to 6.30pm.
  • Tuesday, November 15: Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Rise Together: Diversity and Talent Summit – Afternoon Keynote
  • Thursday, November 17: West Michigan PRSA How to talk about things we don’t want to talk about: Driving conversations about racial injustice. Come online and in person at the Grand Rapids Community Transformation Center at 1530 Madison Avenue SE, 4-5:30 p.m. Register gentlemen.

At the Western Michigan chapter of the American Public Relations Association’s signature Diversity Equity and Inclusion event, the focus will be on how businesses and community organizations choose when and how to speak out about injustice. The news release said the incident is particularly relevant to the state of Western Michigan gaining national attention following the killing of Patrick Leoia.

Cle Jackson, president of the NAACP in Grand Rapids, emphasized the importance of educating communities that are disproportionately affected by data bias.

“When we talk about race and justice, we’re talking about the ways in which discrimination, policing, prosecution and incarceration practices affect the black community,” Jackson said in a statement. “Focusing on the role data plays in this area helps ensure ethical data use improves public safety and community well-being for all stakeholders.”

According to the press release, WMPRSA member and Delta Project co-founder Joel Van Kuiken has a vision for Cummings’ week-long event. He said he was grateful to Cummings for sharing her knowledge and perspective with the Grand Rapids community.

“Biased data has the potential to create an unfair future where we don’t even realize it’s happening,” Van Quiken said. “That’s why it’s important to discuss now what we want our future to look like.”

The week-long quest is sponsored by: The Weig Foundation, United Way of the Heart of Western Michigan, Michigan Municipal Alliance, Great Valley State University School of Education and Community Innovation, Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, Children’s Advocacy Center, The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Atomic Object, Carnevale, and others, according to a press release.

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