Justice Stephen Breyer risks making a historic blunder

Conversations on the Constitution with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; Justice Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court Associate Justice. US National Archives

United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is facing calls to retire before the 2022 congressional elections so that his successor can be confirmed while the Democrats have control of the United States Senate. The 82-year-old Breyer has signaled he's reluctant to retire because he doesn't want to be perceived as partisan.

But surely the principles that guide a judge on the bench are also relevant. Breyer's career can be defined by the defense of what he calls "active liberty," which boils down to democracy, the constitutional principle that the people should control government.

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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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