Italy’s nightmarish battle with coronavirus offers a preview of what may await the US in the weeks ahead

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

The facts about Italy’s battle with coronavirus — which the World Health Organization has declared to be a global pandemic — are downright shocking. According to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the death toll from coronavirus had reached 1061 in Italy (which is Europe’s fourth largest economy) as of early Friday morning, March 13. Italy remains on lockdown: travel within the country is greatly restricted — and from Milan to Rome to Naples, businesses the federal government has deemed non-essential are not allowed to open. Supermarkets and pharmacies are still open in Italy; businesses ranging from bars, restaurants and cafes to clothing stores to movie theatres are not allowed to open until at least March 25.

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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.

What you can do:
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