Oppression is systemic—that is, built into the fabric of our society. Even our technologies are not neutral: as many scholars and activists have shown, they are shaped by the biases and agendas of their creators. New digital tools (including facial recognition systems, search algorithms, and databases) created by corporations and governments reflect prejudices based on our collective identities. These tools are then used in ways that contribute to existing inequalities. For example, biased programs may discriminate against disabled people in job interviews, suggest harsher sentences for Hispanic defendants, and deny medical care to Black patients. The earliest computers were called “difference engines,” as they were used to calculate the differences between numbers. Today, computers are machines used to encode the differences between us.
The fall 2021 exhibition Difference Machines: Technology & Identity in Contemporary Art showed us how artists are intervening in the technological systems that define our world, using the very tools that technology provides. They not only show us that it is possible to influence the way these machines work but also invite us to participate in the reimagining and reinventing of these tools to create a more equitable world. The organizations below can guide you about how to get involved.