Having worked professionally in tech, I know that there’s a back-end and a front-end, or in other words, the places that the end-user can and cannot see. You can’t really have a front-end without a back-end, and a back-end is futile without it’s front. Looking at the tech industry itself, you could say that the same dichotomy exists in many different ways. Glaringly, racism and gender-bias are two of them.
The unique thing about Jenkin’s introductory chapter in Convergence Culture is that it allows us to think about the technology industry in two ways: the back-end and the front-end. We know today that if you are a woman or a person of color, you have slim odds finding opportunity in Silicon Valley; on the contrary, however, there are no hoops of bias that a user must pass through in order to hit publish on blog post. This is the beauty of the convergence that Jenkins speaks of when referring to Ithiel de Sola Pool’s Technologies of Freedom:
“Freedom is fostered when the means of communication are dispersed, decentralized, and easily available, as are printing presses or microcomputers. Central control is more likely when the means of communication are concentrated, monopolized, and scarce, as are great networks.”
After watching CNN’s Black in America: The New Promised Land–Silicon Valley, we see through first-hand experience the brunt of systemic bias and racism. I believe that this bias is not merely behind the small detailed intricacies of new software, rather, it is also a driving force behind these new technologies entirely. Why is it that we have movies like Her and Ex-Machina and existing AI technologies that sexualize women? Why are Siri and Alexa so clearly female at all? Personally, I think that if you’re capable of making a technology that completes tasks for you on-command, I certainly think that making a gender-less AI personality is within the realm of possibility. At the end of the day, when people are trinketing around and creating new stuff, there is a person behind all that code with a brain and bias behind it all.
It’s up to us to make sure we keep the internet and new technologies as free and open as possible. I keep thinking about when Emoji’s became more inclusive. There’s a fascinating podcast episode by 99% Invisible which covers the history behind and existing system for creating new emojis. The fact that the first Emoji’s were white and straight illustrates the perspective and bias of it’s creators with exclusivity, but these technologies are not self-correcting, and it’s up to us to steer the course.