Why does a widely-used internet search engine deliver results that can be blatantly racist and sexist?

“Beyond the Search” tells the story of two leading information researchers who made shocking discoveries about hidden biases in the search technology we rely on every day. It begins when Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble set out to find activities to entertain her young nieces and entered the term “Black girls’’ into her search bar: pages of pornography appeared as the top results. Subsequent searches of “Latina girls” and “Asian girls” led to similarly sexualizing and racist results. Concerned about the effect of such dangerous stereotypes, Noble embarked on research that would lead to her groundbreaking book, ‘Algorithms of Oppression.’

Along the way, she discovered the work of another prominent Black researcher, computer scientist Dr. Latanya Sweeney, who had made her own disturbing discovery: When she searched her own name, she got online ads for access to an arrest record. As Sweeney had never been arrested, she began investigating discrimination in online ad delivery. Her findings astounded her: Searching a name more commonly given to Black children was 25% more likely to deliver an ad suggestive of an arrest record. Both researchers share common concerns about how everyday online searches can reinforce damaging stereotypes, and explore how technology can be made more equitable.

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