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  • Angela Ford

Obsidian in London and A.I. (Part 2)

Artificial Intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

We are already using it in our daily lives. It’s used in e-commerce to make recommendations while we shop. It sorts our emails to extract spam and delivers food on college campuses for starters. When I think of A.I. I think about facial recognition.


Facial recognition is very successful when we set our images to unlock our smart phones. But when used in public spaces it has been harmful to Black people. A blog in a Harvard publication highlights the disparities in facial recognition of people of color. There is a possibility The Obsidian Collection can help improve this situation.It’s easy to understand the improvements of facial recognition of Black people rely on lots of factors including images of Black people.We have images. But more than that, we have positive metadata! It's not enough to just obtain images.Images in public spaces are often associated with negative, stereotypical descriptions embedded in those images.Including those kinds of datasets in A.I. learning reinforces the same problems that plague our society.


The Obsidian Collection is reclaiming the Black narrative. Participating in the A.I. conversation is a part of that goal. We’ve started conversations with the prominent A.I. firm DeepMind, based in London. I spent a day at their headquarters in London.I had breakfast with a group of Executives and Scientists of DeepMind. It was invigorating to hear what they are doing in the A.I. space.They are young, diverse and really smart!I was able to share the goals of The Obsidian Collection and some of our processes.I’d like to think I was eloquent, but I shared a quote from one of my favorite actors, Tim Reid who says it best:


"We’re at a critical point in our history, as we witness the dynamic merger of technology and humanity. Technologies will either assist our cultural diversity to flourish and enhance our future or through its formidable power it will destroy any chance of us realizing a mutual destiny.It’s solely up to those who control and program the media power that technology provides. Those of us in the African diaspora must become cultural programmers or continue to be programmed. Just saying." – Tim Reid

The Obsidian Collection will do more than provide images and positive metadata for firms in the A.I. industry. We’re not going to simply drop off datasets and hope for improvements. We will engage with Black scientists and coders actually creating the algorithms that impact the African diaspora. It is very important that Obsidian adds cultural programmers to the space.


In the afternoon, I participated in a session called “Ask Me Anything!” DeepMind invites an assortment of guests to visit their offices.Scientists, analysts, program managers and others get a chance to dialogue with people from many industries as we all move into the future together. The questions centered around Obsidian’s origin story and methods of digitizing archives.


Conversations are taking place. There’s are possibilities of collaborations with DeepMind and others in the A.I. space. We are reclaiming the Black narrative and we're just getting started!



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