Speaker to discuss technology's effect on discrimination

Ruha Benjamin

A Princeton University researcher who explores the intersection of society and technology will discuss ways the digital world can perpetuate discrimination in this year’s Cressman Lecture.

Profesor Ruha Benjamin’s talk, “Beyond Buzzwords: Reimagining the Default Settings of Technology and Society,” takes place Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive St., in Eugene. It is free and open to the public.

Presented by the Oregon Humanities Center, the lecture is the first in its series “Convergence: Intersections Between the Sciences and the Humanities.”

Benjamin notes that from everyday apps to complex algorithms, technology has the potential to hide, speed and even deepen discrimination, while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to racist practices of a previous era. The author of “Race After Technology,” she explores the world of biased bots, altruistic algorithms and their many entanglements, and provides conceptual tools to decode tech promises with sociologically informed skepticism. 

She will present the concept of the “New Jim Code” to explore a range of discriminatory designs that encode inequity: by explicitly amplifying racial hierarchies, by ignoring but thereby replicating social divisions, or by aiming to fix racial bias but ultimately doing the opposite. She will challenge the audience to question not only the technologies people are being sold but also the ones they manufacture themselves.

Benjamin is an associate professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton, where she studies the social dimensions of science, technology and medicine; race and citizenship; and knowledge and power.

She is also the founder of the JUST DATA Lab and a faculty associate in the Center for Information Technology Policy, the Program on History of Science, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Program on Gender and Sexuality Studies, and the Department of Sociology. Benjamin serves on the executive committees for the Program in Global Health and Health Policy and the Center for Digital Humanities.

First United Methodist Church has free parking. For more information contact  ohc@uoregon.edu or call 541-346-3934.