Advancing Justice in the Digital World
Computer Scientist & Digital Innovator
2012 Fulbright U.S. Student to Zambia
With seemingly inexhaustible energy and a reservoir of brilliant ideas, Joy Buolamwini is a leader and innovator making the world a more equitable place. A graduate researcher at MIT, Buolamwini leads projects that span the globe. She empowers young people to create technologies that serve their communities, encourages women to enter STEM fields, and uncovers inherent biases in the algorithms that shape our lives.
After graduating from Georgia Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Buolamwini committed herself to addressing the world’s problems through technology. As a college student, she noted, “I had set in my mind that I wanted to make an impact in African nations through mobile technology, but I wasn’t sure how.” The Fulbright Program provided the launching pad, and Buolamwini’s natural leadership abilities turned a dream into a reality. Through her 2012 Fulbright U.S. Student award to Zambia, she launched Zamrize, an initiative providing Zambian youth with the expertise to create technology through lab-based experiences. The African continent was a natural location for Buolamwini’s first foray into technology education: born in Canada to Ghanaian parents, Buolamwini spent her early childhood in Ghana before emigrating to the United States when her father, a scientist, accepted a position at the University of Mississippi.
Building on the success of Zamrize, in 2014 Buolamwini launched Code4Rights, which promotes women’s rights and learning through technology education. As a Rhodes Scholar, she piloted the very first Rhodes Service Year after completing a master’s of science in education at the University of Oxford. Her year of service allowed her to build her Fulbright project into something with global reach.
For her leadership as a STEM education advocate, Buolamwini received one of two grand prizes in 2016 in the national “Search for Hidden Figures Contest,” which identified the next generation of women leaders in STEM. On her encouragement of women pursuing STEM fields, Buolamwini says, “I think for anybody to thrive, you need to let people know that their story matters, and that who they are matters, and they have the ability to be what they choose to be. It’s easiest for people to believe that when they have role models.”
As a master’s degree student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Buolamwini founded the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization that seeks to create a world with more ethical and inclusive technology. The organization builds on her 2017 master’s thesis at MIT, which uncovered large racial and gender biases in artificial intelligence (AI) services offered by companies including Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon. Buolamwini continues this work as a PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab, where she researches algorithmic bias in computer vision systems.
Buolamwini has also championed algorithmic justice on the international stage at the World Economic Forum and the United Nations General Assembly. She serves on the Global Tech Panel, convened by the Vice President of the European Commission, advising world leaders and technology executives on reducing AI inequity. In partnership with The Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, she launched the Safe Face Pledge, a first-of-its-kind agreement prohibiting the misuse of facial analysis and recognition technology by law enforcement and governments.
For her innovative research, Buolamwini has been named to the Bloomberg 50, MIT Technology Review “2018 Innovator Under 35,” BBC “100 Women 2018", Forbes “Top 50 Women in Tech,” and Forbes “30 under 30.” Fortune Magazine named her one of the world’s greatest leaders in 2019, describing her as “the conscience of the A.I. revolution.” Her featured TED Talk on algorithmic bias has nearly 1.5 million views, and she is featured in Coded Bias, a documentary now streaming on Netflix. Her spoken word visual audit "AI, Ain't I A Woman?" powerfully combines art and intellect to demonstrate the failings of AI as it misidentifies the faces of iconic women.
Working tirelessly for a more equitable world as a Fulbrighter in Zambia and on the international stage, Buolamwini has seized the moment to make a positive impact as a leader and innovator in the technology industry.