Encode Justice, an international group of grassroots activists advocating for ethical AI applications, has had a busy year. Legislators have been lobbied, online seminars have been held, and meetings have been attended, all in the hopes of educating others about the dangers of facial-recognition technology.
It’d be difficult for any activist group to fit everything into a workday; most of the Encode Justice team has had to cram it all in around high school.
This is due to the fact that the organization was founded and is run almost entirely by high school students. Sneha Revanur, the company’s founder and president, is a 16-year-old San Jose high-school senior, and at least one of the leadership team members isn’t old enough to get a driver’s license. It may be the only youth activist group devoted solely to highlighting the dangers posed by AI-based applications such as facial recognition software and deepfakes, both real and potential.
“We’re fighting for a future in which technology can be used to uplift, and not to oppress,” Revanur told CNN Business.
Over the last few years, AI has become more widely used, but the general public has only recently become aware of it. Concerns about the accuracy and underlying racial bias of facial-recognition systems have become increasingly common. For example, facial recognition technology has been shown to be less accurate when identifying people of color, and at least a few Black men have been wrongfully arrested as a result of its use. While there is no federal legislation governing the technology’s use, an increasing number of states and cities are enacting their own regulations to limit or prohibit its use.
Schools are increasingly using facial-recognition systems for on-campus surveillance systems and as part of remote testing services, ostensibly to protect student safety and integrity. Encode Justice is taking action in the hopes of raising awareness about its concerns about the spread of such surveillance among students and adults — and this action can take many forms and be carried out from almost anywhere, thanks to the pandemic’s increased use of online mobilization.
Encode Justice members, for example, were fighting facial-recognition technology in schools and other public places with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and another youth group, the Massachusetts-based Student Immigrant Movement, during a week in mid-September. People were encouraged to contact local officials to push for a state ban on facial-recognition software in schools, as well as to post support for such a ban on social media during this student week of action.
Despite their limited time (and experience), the students behind Encode Justice have recruited young people from all over the world.