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Joy Buolamwini

Honoree, 2020

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Focus Areas

STEM & Innovation

Joy Buolamwini is a computer scientist, poet, and digital activist at the vanguard of a movement to make artificial intelligence ethical, inclusive and accountable. She’ s the founder of Algorithmic Justice League, an organization that uses art and research to expose algorithmic bias and harms while advocating for industry and policy changes.

A Ghanaian-American born in Canada and raised in Mississippi, Joy’ s fascination with technology began in her father’ s computer aided drug discovery lab. While working on an engineering project as a graduate student, she discovered that she had to use a white mask to be detected by facial analysis technology. The experience was jarring, and sparked Joy’ s curiosity. She started looking into the many ways that AI not only excludes entire groups of people but also causes harm, affecting areas of criminal justice, employment, healthcare and access to finance.

“I’ m on a mission to stop an unseen force that’ s rising – a force that I call ‘the coded gaze’ , my term for algorithmic bias,” said Joy. “Algorithmic bias, like human bias, results in unfairness. However, algorithms, like viruses, can spread bias on a massive scale, at a rapid pace.”

Based at the MIT Media Lab, Joy leads groundbreaking research that has exposed racial and gender bias in technologies developed by several Silicon Valley giants. While some have responded by making improvements, others are pushing back. Because she knows what’ s at stake, Joy is unfazed by resistance. She’ s sounding the alarm on a global scale, urging a cultural shift toward more equitable and accountable technologies. Her transformation from graduate student to digital activist is captured in the documentary Coded Bias which premiered at the Sundance film festival.

Joy was selected as a 2020 Global Leadership Awards Honoree.