Joy Buolamwini: "AI, Ain't I A Woman?" (2018)

Poet of Code [Joy Buolamwini SM '17] shares "AI, Ain't I A Woman " - a spoken word piece that highlights the ways in which artificial intelligence can misinterpret the images of iconic black women: Oprah, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Shirley Chisholm.

This spoken word piece was inspired by Gender Shades, a research investigation that uncovered gender and skin-type bias in facial analysis technology from leading tech companies.

Joy Buolamwini


AI, Ain't I A Woman 

My heart smiles as I bask in their legacies
Knowing their lives have altered many destinies
In her eyes, I see my mother's poise
In her face, I glimpse my auntie's grace In this case of deja vu 
A 19th century question comes into view
In a time, when Sojourner truth asked
"Ain't I a woman?"

Today, we pose this question to new powers
Making bets on artificial intelligence, hope towers
The Amazonians peek through
Windows blocking Deep Blues
As Faces increment scars
Old burns, new urns
Collecting data chronicling our past 
Often forgetting to deal with 
Gender race and class, again I ask
"Ain't I a Woman?"

Face by face the answers seem uncertain
Young and old, proud icons are dismissed
Can machines ever see my queens as I view them?
Can machines ever see our grandmothers as we knew them?

Ida B. Wells, data science pioneer
Hanging facts, stacking stats on the lynching of humanity
Teaching truths hidden in data
Each entry and omission, a person worthy of respect

Shirley Chisholm, unbought and unbossed
The first black congresswoman
But not the first to be misunderstood by machines
Well-versed in data drive mistakes

Michelle Obama, unabashed and unafraid
To wear her crown of history
Yet her crown seems a mystery
To systems unsure of her hair
A wig, a bouffant, a toupee?
May be not
Are there no words for our braids and our locks?

Does sunny skin and relaxed hair
Make Oprah the first lady?
Even for her face well-known
Some algorithms fault her
Echoing sentiments that strong women are men

We laugh celebrating the successes 
Of our sisters with Serena smiles
No label is worthy of our beauty.

Timeline: 2010s
School: School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Department: Media Arts and Sciences
Career: Arts & HumanitiesTechnology
Object: Video
Collection: Activism, Africa(n), Afrofuturism, Pop Culture, Rising Voices 1995-Present, Women