Letters to the Editor: Racist facial recognition -- who’s writing the code?

Cameras using facial recognition technology are displayed at a conference on security in Beijing in 2018.
(Nicolas Asfouri / AFP via Getty Images)

To the editor: It was good to learn about the legislative attempts by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and four of his Democratic colleagues to limit the misuses of technology surveillance. The way racial biases are built into these and other technology systems is an example of how all of us must learn more about how technology is designed and used.

My UCLA colleague Jean J. Ryoo and I recently published a graphic novel, “Power On!,” for middle and high school youth that opens with four friends learning about an unarmed Black man in their neighborhood who was shot and killed by police using a biased facial recognition system.

The friends begin to wonder: How this could have happened? Can robots be racist? What are algorithms anyway? Why are so few people of color and females working in the tech industry, and why aren’t all schools teaching computer science to all their students?


I hope the Facial Recognition Act will awaken us all to learn more about the good and harm of technology innovation, as it has too often been harmful for communities of color.

Jane Margolis, Los Angeles

The writer is a senior researcher at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.