Investigating bias in technology through the Baskin Engineering Anti-Racism Research Fellowship


Technology is vulnerable to bias. Recognizing the need for anti-racism technology that takes into account the perceptions and experiences of underrepresented populations, the UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering established the Anti-Racism Fellowship (FARR) in 2021.

Graduate students Roman Reggiardio and Milad Hakimshafaei are the latest fellows to lead individual projects to research tools and techniques that will combat discrimination and racism in technology and engineering.

“The idea for FARR came about as we were engaged in long discussions about how, as a school, Baskin Engineering can actively contribute to building a more just and anti-racist society,” said Alexander Wolf. , dean of the Baskin School of Engineering. “FARR is one of many important school-wide initiatives that have come out of these discussions, which also included the formation of the Baskin Inclusive Curriculum and Engineering Pedagogy (BICEP) initiative, active participation in the design of the Faculty Equity Advocates program on campus and the appointment of Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics Marcella Gomez as the school’s first Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Eliminating Discrimination for Equitable Medical Technologies

Inherent biases have long prevailed in genetic analysis technologies. As new medical technologies are developed, it is imperative that adequate representation of various patient characteristics, including gender, race and ethnicity, be considered early in the design process in order to ensure that products are effective, accessible and fair for all.

Machine learning tools are playing an increasingly important role in the analysis of patient data, such as blood samples. These tools can inherit biases from their technologists and can ultimately affect diagnoses.

“We have tons of opportunities to accumulate and encounter biases that may never be resolved,” said a PhD in biomolecular engineering. student Roman Reggiardo. “If we build a diagnostic tool that only works on one population, we lose the opportunity to have the impact we seek. I wanted to investigate current efforts to make diagnostics and liquid biopsies fairer and how we can still adjust things to be unbiased in the future.

With the mentorship of his faculty advisor, Assistant Professor of Biomolecular Engineering Daniel Kim, Reggiardo is studying barriers to accessible and equitable liquid biopsy diagnosis, a type of medical technology that uses cutting-edge genetic sequencing of DNA or tissue. to derive a complex diagnosis from a single blood test.

Reggiardo, who began his fellowship in late summer 2022, reviews recent studies to assess patient populations and potential bias in early results from liquid biopsies. Its purpose is to assess both quantitatively and qualitatively gaps in diagnostic performance and appropriateness in various populations. He then hopes to address these issues through new methodologies that draw on data representing a diverse population to develop technologies and computational tools that contribute to fair and ethical practices.

“My thesis research is directly related to how liquid biopsy technology can be developed, deployed, and used in an equitable way,” Reggiardo said.

Develop various perceptions in visual design

Artificial intelligence (AI) text-to-image generators, i.e. systems that create images and patterns from written textual descriptions, are becoming increasingly popular and are used for a wide range of content creation applications.

PhD in Computational Media. Student Milad Hakimshafaei is interested in using an AI system that generates images and visual patterns to collect insights into the perception and aesthetic preferences of diverse populations to better understand and design computational tools more inclusive.

“As someone who came to the United States from the Middle East, I noticed the differences in lifestyle, access to technology, and opportunities to shape our future as humans,” Hakimshafaei said. . “These experiences have motivated me to get involved in research that highlights and addresses areas of technology that need improvement to be more inclusive.”

With mentorship from UCSC Computational Media postdoctoral fellow Oskar Elek and Stephanie Lieggi, executive director of the Center for Research in Open Source Software, Hakimshafaei will develop an interface built from an existing web-based AI generator. which will allow the end user to control the system. behavior to generate interesting and unique patterns. By studying a wide range of users’ visual design aesthetic preferences, he plans to develop algorithms that better represent the experience of beauty for different people.

Through this fellowship, Hakimshafaei hopes to draw attention to the value of including diverse user representation in software development and the importance of open source communities for sharing ideas and collaborating on projects to produce technology. impartial anti-racist.

Reggiardo and Hakimshafaei will present their research results at the 25th anniversary of the Baskin School of Engineering, which will be celebrated throughout the 2022-2023 academic year. FARR is open to all declared undergraduate and graduate students of Baskin Engineering, including undergraduate students pursuing minor engineering studies. Students can apply individually or in teams of up to three students.

For more information on the programs and resources available to students, staff, and faculty that support inclusive excellence at Baskin Engineering, please visit the Baskin Engineering Inclusive Center of Excellence.


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