UK Happenings

'Automating Inequality' Author Virginia Eubanks Speaking at UK April 4

Photo of Virginia Eubanks
Virginia Eubanks

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 20, 2018) — Virginia Eubanks, author of "Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor" will speak at the University of Kentucky on Wednesday, April 4, as part of the School of Information Science’s scholarly talk series, “SIS Talks.”   

Eubanks is an associate professor of political science at the University at Albany, State University of New York, an author and editor of three books, a founding member of the Our Data Bodies Project and a fellow at New America. The guest lecture will begin at noon, in Kincaid Auditorium (Room 111) of the Gatton College of Business and Economics building.

In her new book, "Automating Inequality," Eubanks systematically investigates the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America. She draws from personal experience and three detailed narratives to illustrate data-based discrimination in automated systems that are used by the government to deliver social services.

“Eubanks’ 'Automating Inequality' should be required reading for everyone interested in pursuing a career in ICT or policy. She debunks the myth that 'technology is neutral' and explicitly shows us how we embed our biases into our technologies in order to maintain a political agenda,” said David Nemer, assistant professor of information communication technology, an academic degree program housed in the UK College of Communication and Information. “It is a great wake-up call for those who put too much faith in technology and expect it to solve our social issues — when in fact, the technology is only amplifying the will of their stakeholders.”

Eubanks will discuss communication technologies that promise to streamline public services, for example, automated systems that gauge welfare eligibility and databases that connect the homeless with housing resources.

“In my class ICT 300: Information Communication Technology in Society, I thoroughly discuss this topic with my students and they are often surprised by how naively we tend to analyze the role of technology in society. By bringing this theme and Eubanks' approach, I hope students critically engage with ICT and understand that developing ICT is not just a matter of technical skills, but also understanding it as a social object with serious implications to our society,” Nemer said. 

For two decades, Eubanks has worked in community technology and economic justice movements. She is author of "Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age" and co-editor with Alethia Jones of "Ain’t Nobody Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith." 

“One of the reasons I’m optimistic is that these systems are also really incredible diagnostics. They make inequities in our country really concrete, and really relevant. Where one of the systems goes spiraling out of control is a place where we have a deep inequality that needs to be addressed,” said Eubanks in an interview with MIT Technology Review. “And so, I believe that the combination of the movement work that’s already happening now and increased attention to systems like these can create incredible pressure to create a more just social system overall.”

For more information about "SIS Talks," email david.nemer@uky.edu.

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