Foreward to the 2023 Hooks Institute Policy Papers
To say the world is in the throes of a technological revolution spearheaded by artificial intelligence (“AI”), and automation, may be one of the most understated observations of this century. While “Fake News” ran rampant on social and other media and influenced the November 2016 presidential election, that election provided ample warning of how media manipulated to mislead can have enormous negative consequences for every segment of life, including personal and employment relationships, national security, elections, media, etc.
However, something is intriguing about AI and automation. It gives us access to a futuristic society allowing us to explore unchartered waters. Bill Gates has argued for years that AI has its proven benefits. Potential uses of AI include creating personalized teaching models for students so that educators can maximize students’ educational experiences (Gates, 2023). “AI can reduce some of the world inequities” (Gates, 2023) through its problem-solving capabilities, enhance worker productivity, and “[a]s computer power gets cheaper, GPT’s ability to express ideas will increasingly be like having a white-collar worker available to help you with various tasks” (Gates, 2023).
As for the immediate future, AI may create as many casualties as opportunities. Undergirding the Writers Guild of America, strike were Hollywood writers’ concerns that AI, specifically the program ChatGPT (which can produce creative writing and audio in response to prompts), might reduce or eliminate the need for screenwriters in the future (Fortune 2023).
Individuals, governments, and organizations have used AI in insidious ways. In public housing complexes, surveillance cameras create over-policing of people of color. Despite the lack of evidence showing that Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) makes public housing complexes safer, “many of the 1.6 million Americans who live [in public housing] . . . are overwhelming people of color [who are subjected] to round-the-clock surveillance” (MacMillian, 2023). For example, in the small town of Rolette, North Dakota, the public housing complex has 100 residents un- der the surveillance of 107 cameras, “a number of cameras per capita approaching that found in New York’s Riker Island complex” (MacMillian, 2023).
FRT has led to evictions for minor or alleged infractions that have uprooted lives. In Steubenville, Ohio, a resident was evicted for removing a laundry basket from the washing room of the complex, and another was threatened with eviction because she loaned her key fob to an authorized guest (MacMillian, 2023). The latter resident demonstrated that her vision loss required the help of her friend, who brought her groceries, thus successfully pleading
her case against eviction (MacMillian, 2023). A single mother of two in New Bedford, Massachusetts, who received an eviction notice in 2021, stated that the public housing authority “made [her] life hell” when they alleged that
her ex-husband – who was taking care of their children while his former wife worked during the day and attended school at night – was staying in the apartment without contributing rent in violation of the rules (MacMillian, 2023). Even Bill Gates acknowledges that the new frontier of AI is not without rugged and scorched terrain that produces inequities. Gates recognizes that “market forces won’t naturally produce AI products and services that help the poor- est. The opposite is more likely.” He contends that “[w]ith reliable funding and the right policies, governments and philanthropy can ensure that AIs are used to reduce inequity” (Gates, 2023).
The speed with which technology and automation are transforming the landscape is taking place with unprecedented velocity, even outpacing the rate with which changes occurred during the industrial revolution. “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. Compared with previous industrial revolutions, the [technological revolution] is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. The breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance (Schwab, 2015).
This technological revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world (Schwab, 2015). By contrast, African Americans, Hispanics, and marginalized people clustered in service,
warehouse, and other low skills occupations are the least likely beneficiaries of AI and automation gains because they are the most susceptible to job loss because of it. (McFerren & Delavega, 2018).
As the nation and world grapple with the societal impact of AI and Automation, the Hooks Institute remains focused on a core question central to promoting justice and equality: what policies and practices will prevent AI and automation from discriminating against people of color and other marginalized groups? How can AI and automation aid our nation in eliminating racial, economic, health, educational, and other disparities?
The policy papers in this edition analyze the impact of AI and automation in three crucial areas. Khortlan Becton, JD, MTS, explores the urgent need to regulate AI to eradicate existing and potential policies and practices that disproportionately discriminate against African Americans and minorities. Becton proposes the creation of a new federal agency to regulate AI.
Susan Elswick, EdD, LCSW, a faculty member at the University of Memphis School of Social Work, seeks a path to using AI and Automation to provide social work counseling to those in need. Elswick not only explores how effective client counseling is dependent upon access and ability to use technology by clients but also argues that social workers require formal training from institutions of higher learning on how to use AI and automation to benefit their clients.
Meka Egwuekwe, MS, founder and executive director of Code Crew, approaches AI and automation from the perspective of a practitioner who teaches others to write computer code. Recognizing that the world is experiencing a revolution in how work is performed, Egwuekwe proposes recommendations that reskill or upskill the workforce, increased support for startups and small businesses, and a societal framework that will embrace universal basic income as a resource to aid those displaced by AI and Automation.
The world has entered the frontier of AI and Automation. Let’s ensure everyone has an equitable opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as we embark on this evolving and transformative frontier.
Daphene R McFerren, JD
Executive Director, Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change
Elena Delavega, PhD
Professor, Department of Social Work
Daniel Kiel, JD
FedEx Professor of Law, Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Editors
June 30, 2023
Cole, J. (2023, May 5). Chat GPT is the ‘terrifying’ subtext of the writers’ strike that is reshaping Hollywood. Fortune. Retrieved from https://fortune.com/2023/05/05/ hollywood-writers-strike-wga-chatgpt-ai-terrifying-replace-workers/
Gates, B. (2023, March 21). The age of AI has begun: Artificial Intelligence is as revolutionary as mobile phones and the internet. GatesNotes. Retrieved from https://www.gatesnotes.com/The-Age-of-AI-Has-Begun
MacMillian, Douglas (2023, May 16). Eyes on the poor: Cameras, facial recognition watch over public housing. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/05/16/ surveillance-cameras-public-housing/
McFerren, D. & Delavega, E. (2018) The robots are ready! Are we? Automation, Race and the Workforce.
Hooks Policy Papers. Retrieved from https://www.memphis.edu/benhooks/pdfs/the_robots_are_ready.pdf
Schwab, K. (2015, December 12). The fourth industrial revolution: What it means and how to respond. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/world/fourth-industrial-revolution?fa_antholo- gy=1116078
World Economic Forum. (May 2023). The future of jobs report. Retrieved from https://www3.weforum.org/docs/ WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2023.pdf