May 26, 2021
12. Is bias inevitable in the production of knowledge?
Object 1: Article
The first object I am using is an article written by the local newspaper ES (Spain) titled, “Little Red Riding hood banned from Catalan school in sexism row1”.
As described in the article, a Catalan school banned the fairy-tale ‘Little Red Riding hood’ because they claimed that Fairy tales could be interpreted as “toxic”, specifically how they depict sexist stereotypes – where the man is presented as a hero and a woman having to be saved by him. This is also the case for sleeping beauty, and Cinderella.
This object enriches the exhibition since it demonstrates how gender bias inherently manifests in our culture. It also refers to the notion of inevitability because we absorb these cultural aspects (e.g sexism) at a very young age when our critical thinking abilities are restricted. Therefore, our biases may subconsciously become ingrained in the way we think which could reflect in the knowledge produced, creating stereotypes; highlighting the fact that bias may be unavoidable.
Furthermore, this object contributes to the exhibition by illustrating how sociocultural norms affect the production of biased knowledge. ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ was published in 16972. Historically, the notion that a woman needed a man to save her, implying that she was not strong or competent enough to live without male protection, was not considered problematic or discriminatory due to sociocultural norms. However, our cultural beliefs have progressed; thus, one could argue that a modern interpretation of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ teaches children sexist bias. This highlights how bias is inevitable in the production of knowledge; since, the children exposed to the storyline learn to accept the biased gender roles.
Object 2: The amazon face recognition software
The “Amazon face Rekognition3” software is widely applied such as to identify a person or evaluate resumes. This software showed bias towards certain ethnicities and genders. The graphic shows the AI will be more biased towards darker females with a 68.6%4 accuracy.
This object demonstrates how bias is inevitable in the production of knowledge, since the diversity in the data fed into the algorithm impacts the output created. The engineers at Amazon used AI to evaluate resumes. The AI rejected 100% of female applicants and preferred lighter males. This is due to amazon’s lack of training data on black and female profiles as compared to that on white men meaning the algorithm was better trained, thus less bias when evaluating white men’s resumes. Therefore, the production of biased knowledge from algorithms is inevitable because of the lack of diversity in the data.
In addition to the biased data, the creators of AI algorithms are homogeneous themselves. Therefore, they reflect their own bias, when creating their programs. For instance, 70.7% of the senior leaders in amazon are white with an average salary of $25,081,6005. This profile doesn’t match the average applicant; thus, their circumstances might not be taken into consideration by the algorithm due to the creator’s bias. Therefore, the algorithm creates biased knowledge by deciding whether an applicant has potential, based on their similarity to the creator’s race, gender and income. Algorithmic bias is inevitable as it is a reflection of the creator’s perspective which is implicitly biased.
Object 3: An essay on Universal History, the Manners, and Spirit of Nations
For my third object I am using Voltaire’s essay called “Essai sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations6”. This object is of interest because Voltaire is credited as approaching history from a different perspective, focusing on customs, social history and achievements in arts and sciences as opposed to narrating diplomatic events in an attempt to eliminate the bias stemming from a historian’s personal beliefs. This focus is now partially used in the contemporary historical method.
This object enriches this exhibition because it demonstrates how bias depends upon the producer of knowledge. In his essay, Voltaire traced the progress of world civilization from a universal perspective, rejecting the nationalistic attitude of historians in an attempt to eliminate bias stemming from personal beliefs. One may argue that historians are biased because they may interpret primary sources according to their own beliefs. Despite trying to eliminate bias, Voltaire expressed bias towards France, stating in his essay that “France is the only place where people respect individuals, the nobility and the clergy7”. This demonstrates that bias, while historians can limit it by being aware of it, is inevitable as these beliefs are often ingrained.
This object refers to the argument that bias is inevitable in the production of knowledge since a lack of diverse sources used by a historian may influence the conclusions reached. Voltaire’s essay identified the lack of non-Eurocentric historical sources. Despite this, here is a limited number of perspectives to present an all-encompassing argument. Although Voltaire was aware of potential bias, the knowledge is biased because of the lack of diverse sources. An imbalance in accounts from historians of various backgrounds can lead to partisan knowledge, which results in the inevitable production of biased knowledge.