Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium
NO Dogs Negroes Mexicans
These were the words on signs distributed by the Lonestar Restaurant Association in Dallas for its members to hang in their restaurant windows. These signs hung for decades throughout the U.S. until the 1960s. My dad, a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent, and member of the U.S. Army/Air Force during WWII, was not allowed to eat in cafes across the country. He and his Black soldier friends ate behind the building — in U.S. military uniforms. Fast forward 60 years and communities of color need to ask ourselves, “What are we doing to prepare for a better future?”, and “Where do we go from here?”
I’ve been seeing news about large donations to support social justice efforts which is an incredibly important step in the right direction. At the same time, we also need strategic investments to prepare our communities for future jobs. Said another way, we need to simultaneously plan for the necessary short- and longer-term changes that are coming and coming quickly. One of the most important opportunities is in technology and our communities are not currently prepared to represent themselves well or take advantage of the related job opportunities and life tools using technology.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here and it is here to stay. Just look at your phone, talk to your smart speaker, or conduct a web search. It is also advancing quickly and will be making its way into local factories and manufacturing, places where many in our communities currently work. A post-COVID 19 environment is expected to advance the role of AI given the germs spread by humans and resulting loss of revenue that physical distancing and PPE require. Does anyone think the meat packing industry isn’t exploring robot replacements for humans?
In a 2019 report released by the African American Mayors Association, which represents more than 500 African American mayors across the U.S., researchers examined three cities — Gary, Indiana; Columbia, South Carolina; and Long Beach, California — to see how successful they’ve been in preparing students and workers to succeed in the changing labor market. What they found is that we aren’t effectively reaching the populations most likely to lose their jobs to automation.
According to a report, between 9% and 47% of jobs will be lost to automation in the upcoming decades, but these job losses will most significantly affect people with lower education levels. People who identify as African American or Latino are less likely than whites to achieve more than a high school education, meaning that they are also more likely to hold a job threatened by automation.
What’s next? Now is the time to be very strategic about investments in our communities. We need to prioritize AI jobs and information. The greatest gift we can give our communities is to empower them with information about AI so that they can understand the impact and find related-opportunities. We need to have conversations about the opportunities and challenges AI may bring to their community. Automation is one of the key topics that should be explored. Other questions include whether AI technology can provide better health care at the local level? And, is it possible for AI technology to improve medications designed specifically to address different biological needs? Are there AI tools that can help marginalized community members access more job opportunities? What tools can small business owners leverage to build/re-build their businesses? How can education improve with AI tools from a laptop? How can AI tools help us find the most trustworthy financial lender and best deal? How do we create more trustworthy facial recognition AI?
Let’s have productive conversations about what companies, the public sector and other entities can do to support marginalized communities as AI continues to evolve. What about asking companies to implement training programs for employees who will lose their jobs to automation? How about asking Congress to designate funding for training to be developed for this purpose?” What if we created a global network of entities publicly committing to a phased approach to technology that will adversely impact marginalized communities?”
Information is the great equalizer. Now is the time to empower our communities with information about artificial intelligence. These changes are coming. We know it. We are not prepared.
Social justice needs to be defined in the context of history and the future. Equitable access to knowledge and jobs leads us towards equality and social justice. Are we ready for the brave new world?
Susan Gonzales, Founder & CEO, AIandYou.org — @aisusangonzales