HAI's Commitment to Action
Putting Our Values into Practice
Diversity, equity, accessibility, inclusion, and justice are critical to realizing HAI’s mission to improve the human condition — that is, to develop technologies that support and improve the wellbeing of humanity.
The mass protests around the world reflect outrage over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Riah Milton, Philando Castile, and so many others. But the protests are also over the enduring legacy of slavery and segregation in America. George Floyd reflects merely one loss of a Black life in the United States’ long history of police violence and the systemic racism and inequities of our society. These inequities extend also to the dramatically disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx communities. We recognize that anti-Black racism, in particular, has a history in this country that dates back to 1619, is active and present to this day, and must be addressed on many fronts, including within academic institutions. We know universities are microcosms of society and therefore these systemic inequalities are present and persist. HAI acknowledges that confronting these and other inequities are central — and, in fact, are essential — to an AI that is “human-centered.”
HAI recognizes the imperative to self-reflect, align our actions with our values, and take steps toward structural change both in our own institutional culture and our work. We are aware that technologies are not neutral in design or impact, and that there are no machine values, only human values. Because of these truths, bias is baked into many AI systems; but that does not mean that “bias” is simply a problem solved by adjusting data sets or machine learning models. We at HAI understand that there is no silver bullet technological fix for bias, discrimination, and racism. Furthermore, we understand that abstract claims to “fairness” — which presume an equal playing field and equal valuation of human life that unfortunately does not currently exist in society — is an insufficient measure of our efforts not only to “do no harm” but to “do good.” We must acknowledge the fact that academic fields of research and study — including AI — have contributed significantly to the social and economic systems of power and inequity that continue to structure society. Since AI research and its applications have outsized reach and impact, HAI recognizes its special responsibility to challenge those systems.
To that end, in early June, we strengthened our values statement to more forcefully commit to a more inclusive and just Institute that acknowledges those issues through our leadership, our research, our educational activities, and our outreach. We formed a diversity, inclusion, and equity committee to assess our current efforts; diagnose shortcomings; consult with other departments, student groups, and external organizations; recommend immediate actions and long-term goals; and support the development of best practices including auditing and accountability models and timetables. The committee will continue consulting with faculty and graduate and undergraduate student groups as part of its work. We are also strengthening university and national partnerships in anti-racist practices that we seek to integrate into our work. Moreover, we are committing to an ongoing assessment of our participation in actively promoting equity and fairness at all levels and supporting social justice or in implicitly suppressing these goals through inaction and silence.
We know expressions of solidarity are not enough. Our goals must be actionable and accountable. Our focus here is our commitment to structural change, and we will follow up in the next three months with a list of further concrete actions that we are taking, a timetable for these actions, and mechanisms to check in on our progress moving forward.
If you have questions or would like to learn more, please reach our DEI team