Cooking Up a Revolution

Like many socially responsible entrepreneurs, Judy Wicks had long admired the business practices of ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's. She built her thriving White Dog Cafe on the same premise that doing right by the environment, the local community and one's human values made good business sense. So when Ben and Jerry themselves were unable to stop Unilever from buying their company out from under them in late 1999, Wicks was devastated.

"It was a real wake-up call," Wicks says of the $326 million buyout. "Here was this model of the socially responsible business movement being sold off to a giant corporation, concentrating yet more wealth and power in the hands of a few. And that's just what the socially responsible business movement has been trying to combat all along."

Ben & Jerry's wasn't the only progressive prey of the corporate takeover. In recent years, Odwalla has been bought by Coca-Cola and Cascadian Farm by General Mills, with Stonyfield Farm eventually going to Groupe Danone, the parent company of Dannon and other brands.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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