By Khari Johnson
After a 2019 research paper demonstrated that commercially available facial analysis tools fail to work for women with dark skin, AWS executives went on the attack. Instead of offering up more equitable performance results or allowing the federal government to assess their algorithm like other companies with facial recognition tech have done, AWS executives attempted to discredit study coauthors Joy Buolamwini and Deb Raji in multiple blog posts. More than 70 respected AI researchers rebuked this attack, defended the study, and called on Amazon to stop selling the technology to police, a position the company temporarily adopted last year after the death of George Floyd.
But according to the Abuse and Misogynoir Playbook, published earlier this year by a trio of MIT researchers, Amazon’s attempt to smear two Black women AI researchers and discredit their work follows a set of tactics that have been used against Black women for centuries. Moya Bailey coined the term “misogynoir” in 2010 as a portmanteau of “misogyny” and “noir.” Playbook coauthors Katlyn Turner, Danielle Wood, and Catherine D’Ignazio say these tactics were also used to disparage former Ethical AI team co-lead Timnit Gebru after Google fired her in late 2020 and stress that it’s a pattern engineers and data scientists need to recognize.