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Educator Voice: Artificial Intelligence Attempts Black History (And Fails)

June 26, 2023

Educator Voice: Artificial Intelligence Attempts Black History (And Fails)

Black folks must tell our own story to get it right. The last thing we need are racist robots choosing what story gets told about Black history.


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By Jean Darnell, public school librarian

Almost all of the present hoopla around AI (artificial intelligence) discusses the amazing things it can do, from helping college students write papers to entrepreneurs testing out the ease of creating business plans.

But what role will it have in the K-12 classroom — besides worries about students using it to cheat?

My main worries of AI in the classroom involve the continued spread of racism, prejudices and biases in favor of white supremacist ideology that much of AI has shown.

Black people have always been scholars, scientists and sage counsel for the world, and if AI does not reflect that conviction, then I DO NOT WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT.

To test out my theory, I asked popular AI platform ChatGPT to write a paper on Black history for Black History Month. I went in assuming the AI would likely present a “whitewashed” version of Black history.

And that’s what I got.

Related: School librarians explore possibilities of ChatGPT | School Library Journal

The short report generated by ChatGPT began with slavery, touched briefly on Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era (mentioning Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X as advocating “nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience”).

The essay concludes by listing four “notable” Black Americans — Maya Angelou, Katherine Johnson, Louis Armstrong and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Screenshot from Jean Darnell
Screenshot by Jean Darnell

But what’s left out is striking:

  • the denial of the right to read, congregate or own property, not included.
  • the rich history of Black Reconstruction, not included.
  • the first Black President, not included.
  • the history of lynching and the KKK, not included.
  • Who Black people were before enslavement, not included.

The majority of the history discussed was what racists did to Black people, and the lemonade we made out of starting from zero (no land, economic wealth or rights). When I tell you it provided some of the worst “white-washing” possible, believe me.

Think I am being too tough? AI is such a powerful invention of ingenuity that it deserves, if not warrants, tough criticism. We cannot afford oversight and omissions because once it’s released into the world, there’s an infinite amount of directions and interpretations that can follow suit.

Screenshot by Jean Darnell
Screenshot by Jean Darnell

Using AI as a launch path sounds great and ideal, but in the age of misinformation, much effort needs to be made to ensure that what’s presented at face value is of good value. It’s a matter of inclusion, representation, integrity and equity.

And not that we need permission, but Black folks must tell our own story to get it right. The last thing we need are racist robots choosing what story gets told about Black history.

Screenshot by Jarnell Darnell
Screenshot by Jean Darnell

I created the following writing activity from the essay to conclude this past Black History Month, but more importantly to reflect on the importance of not continuing racism in the world of artificial intelligence.

Instead of playing with the possibilities of AI in hopes that improvements are made to represent all perspectives with authenticity and relevance, I will continue to use my platform to discuss inequities.

I will continue to do what I do best — teach.

Read the original post here.

Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Classroom.

Jean Darnell

About the Author

Jean Darnell is a Black American, a 20-year veteran public school librarian and an educator with Texas State Certification for English and ESL (6-12) and school librarianship (Pre-K-12). Jean has a B.S.E from Baylor University and a Master of Information Science from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Find Jean on Twitter @awakenlibrarian or her blog here.

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