Racist robots, reproductive justice, and dreaming of dystopia - Sunday Suggestions & Connections

by Abaki Beck

Sunday Suggestions and Connections is a weekly feature pairing recent news events with related readings and ideas to take action.

Turns out when the world is taken over by robots, it will still be racist. At least, if these robots are trained by humans. This week, Microsoft unveiled an artificial intelligence chatbot named Tay. It was designed to be a “19 year American female” (please tell me, majority white males in the tech industry, why are robots and other AI bots always female?) who would learn to imitate speech and become “smarter” the more people it interacted with on Twitter. In less than 24 hours, Microsoft had to shut the project down as Tay began tweeting racist, sexist, and violent ideas - including threats to specific Black Lives Matters organizers. Microsoft blames this on a coordinated effort to lead Tay astray, though it could also be because there is a lot of racism on Twitter, and people seem less likely to “censor” what they say online or on an anonymous platform. It’s tweets have since been deleted, but you can read some of them in the Colorlines article linked above.

Whatever the cause of Tay’s violent hate speech, one thing is clear: post-racial utopia ain’t coming any time soon. Especially if our future robot overlords learn anything from us. In the meantime, why don’t we support science fiction written by people of color?

Here are just a few suggestions:

Or, check out the Nerds of Color and A Tribe Called Geek websites.

On a more political note, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in an important case regarding contraception access rights. Zubik v. Burwell is a case about the ability for religious organizations to deny coverage of contraception to their employees, as is relegated under the Affordable Care Act. This case relies on protections afforded under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Though it was originally written in response to Native Americans being fired for using peyote (an illegal drug) in religious ceremonies, it has recently been applied to allow Christians to essentially discriminate against other individuals (like women or LGBT individuals) because you know, that’s what Jesus would want.

Currently, the Affordable Care Act allows religious companies to get an exemption from providing coverage of contraceptives if they notify the government to explain their decision. When the company denies coverage of contraception, the government would then step in to provide coverage. The petitioners are arguing that even if a third party (the federal government) is covering contraceptives, it is in violation of their religious liberty.

As we continue to follow Zubik v. Burwell as well as the seemingly endless TRAP laws that continue to pop up in state legislatures across the nation, it is important to remember that reproductive rights are intersectional. Racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice, and immigration reform are all interconnected to reproductive rights.

Here are some resources that highlight the intersectionality of this fight:   

Our stories this week highlight that fighting for racial justice is always actively forward thinking. We look both to the near future in which all people have access to contraception and family planning care, and the distant future in which we have finally developed robots that are less oppressive than human beings. Before we sign off, here are some more important news stories this week and projects to look forward to:

Thanks for reading; have a happy and empowering Sunday!