Hacking Discrimination Ideathon
Disrupting Racism With Tech
By Elaine Harris MIT ’78
Frustrated by violence in the news, continued social and economic roadblocks to progress for minorities, and challenged by MIT President L. Rafael Reif’s “What Are We To Do” call to action to the MIT community, a group of Black MIT alumni met in Washington, D.C. in late summer 2016 to brainstorm solutions.
We developed several concepts, each directed at the broader question of leveraging technology and other skills to address issues associated with discrimination and racism. And we conceived the idea of a student competition to advance those concepts. Support has been enthusiastic from a broad cross-section of people who are intrigued by the prospect of using proven innovation methods to tackle both social and economic inequities that continue to persist in our communities.
Our work culminated in the creation of Hacking Discrimination, a platform to disrupt racism and discrimination in our communities through technology. MIT Vice President Kirk D. Kolenbrander, MIT Institute Community and Equity Officer Ed Bertschinger, and the MIT Alumni Association have been supportive of the pilot launched this year.
Our kickoff event was an ideathon, which is a brainstorming event where participants present new ideas geared toward disrupting existing systems, and gain critical feedback on how to implement their innovations. On February 2nd in Cambridge, MA, a community of partners hosted the Hacking Discrimination Ideathon at Microsoft, including the Black Alumni/ae of MIT (BAMIT), Microsoft New England Research & Development, MIT and Harvard data scientists, Women in Machine Learning, and the MIT Alumni Association. The event was sold-out with a large waitlist.
Some of the topics that were presented and discussed included:
- Bias in Law Enforcement Prediction: Elaine Harris ’78 (BAMIT), Sandra Smith (Microsoft)
- Who Has Political Power and How do You Measure It: Weiwei Pan (Harvard)
- De-biasing Word Embeddings: Adam Kalai and Max Leiserson (Microsoft)
- Gender Bias in Performance Reviews: Elena Jakubiak (Microsoft)
- Response Bias in Surveys: Lily Jeong (Harvard)
- Eliminating Bias in Health Care Machine Learning Algorithms: Nancy Zhang (Harvard IACS) and Gauher Shaheen (Microsoft)
- Risks of Big Data in Personally Identifiable Information: Chelsea Barabas (MIT Digital Currency Initiative)
- Hiring Models without Bias: Jennifer Phillippou (Liberty Mutual)
Other MIT-affiliated attendees included Ed Bertschinger (MIT Institute Community and Equity Office), Judy “JJ” Jackson (MIT Diversity & Inclusion Officer), Moana Bentin (MIT Alumni Association), Robert Love ’08 (BAMIT Board of Directors), Elaine Harris ’78 (BAMIT-D.C.), Lisa Egbuonu-Davis ’79 (BAMIT-D.C.), and MIT undergraduate students Isaiah Borne ’18 and Ade Samuel ’18.
Ade Samuel earned high marks for his quick understanding of new concepts and his presentation of his Political Power team’s findings. Elaine Harris’s team, Bias in Law Enforcement Prediction, wants to continue its work in upcoming forums.
The Hacking Discrimination fund (#4003600) was recently established with “Giving to MIT” to ensure that this problem-solving model involving MIT students can be executed annually. Fund administration will be managed by Suzy Nelson, Vice President and Dean of the MIT Division for Student Life.
Our first Hacking Discrimination Hackathon will be held on April 28–29, 2017. The planning team wants this to be an inclusive event, with cross-disciplinary participation from undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff, as well as interested individuals from outside of the MIT community. Innovators in the entrepreneurship space are valued participants, as they can move strong candidate ideas forward to commercialization. Cash prizes will be awarded.
Additional details are forthcoming on hackingdiscrimination.com. If you’d like to suggest or lead a topic, please contact Elaine Harris ’78 at email@example.com or Leo Anthony Celi MSc ’09 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elaine Harris is a member of the MIT Class of 1978. She graduated from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business with an MBA in Marketing and Strategic Planning. She is currently the President and Co-Founder of Breakthrough Marketing Technology, a consulting firm that supports insight-driven decision making about products, markets, customers and students.