Twenty Seven-year-old Inioluwa Deborah Raji, a Nigerian-Canadian computer scientist and activist, has made an indelible mark in the world of AI through her tireless efforts to combat algorithmic bias and promote accountability.
In what seems like a testament to her influence and impact, Raji was recently honoured as one of the inaugural members of Time Magazine’s 100 list of the most influential people in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Placed in the ‘thinkers’ category, Raji’s recognition is well-deserved, given her unwavering commitment to making AI fairer and more equitable. Her journey into the world of AI activism began when she was a fellow at the Mozilla Foundation, focusing her research on algorithmic auditing and evaluation. It was during this time that she stumbled upon a critical issue: a content moderation model that she was assisting in training was disproportionately flagging content containing people of colour as explicit, even when it wasn’t.
This revelation shook Raji to her core, as it highlighted the stark reality that AI systems were inadvertently perpetuating biases, rendering the world “whiter” than it truly is. This pivotal moment marked a shift in Raji’s career trajectory. She redirected her passion and expertise towards the mission of ensuring that AI companies take responsibility for the harm their models may cause.
Raji believes that transparency and accountability are crucial, and it’s up to developers to provide a clear evaluation of their products and the potential harm they may inflict. Her commitment to ethical AI has taken her to some of the most esteemed institutions in the field.
She has worked closely with Google’s Ethical AI team and served as a research fellow at both the Partnership on AI and the AI Now Institute at New York University. Her focus has been on operationalising ethical considerations in machine learning engineering practices, contributing to the development of ethical AI standards.
One of the most noteworthy collaborations in Raji’s career has been with Joy Buolamwini, a Ghanaian-Canadian computer scientist, and Timnit Gebru. Together with the Algorithmic Justice League, they conducted groundbreaking research on gender and racial bias in facial recognition technology. Their efforts have had far-reaching consequences, prompting IBM and Amazon to not only support facial recognition regulation but also temporarily halt the sale of their products to police.
Raji’s dedication to creating a more ethical AI ecosystem has garnered her widespread recognition and accolades. She has been named one of the world’s top young innovators by both MIT Technology Review and Forbes. Her work on auditing commercial facial recognition technologies from tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, Face++, and Kairos was prominently featured in the eye-opening 2020 documentary, “Coded Bias,” directed by Shalini Kantayya.
In the past year, Raji’s contributions to the AI field have earned her a slew of awards, including the 2019 VentureBeat AI Innovations Award in the category of AI for Good, shared with Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru. She also received the 2020 MIT Technology Review 35 Under 35 Innovator Award, the 2020 EFF Pioneer Award, the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 Award in Enterprise Technology, and the prestigious honour of being named a 2021 100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics Hall of Fame Honoree.