Technology continues to advance exponentially, making it an inspiring and high-stakes era. The STEM disciplines and the social sciences significantly influence the trajectory of American society and the global community in ways that other sectors and fields of exploration cannot match.
Today people of color are underrepresented in all aspects of STEM including academia, business, research, technology and more.
This is important, and not just because of fundamental questions of fairness, impartiality and expediency. Diversity has practical and tangible implications for the functioning of our society, and it has an impact on our long-term sustainability.
Consider the booming field of artificial intelligence (AI), whose influence in our lives will exceed what many of us can even imagine. Harnessing AI has countless applications, from helping with disease mapping to improving adaptive e-learning platforms to supporting the work of law enforcement officers.
But without experts and policy makers at the table with diverse lived experiences, the use of these technologies is more likely to empower the subconscious. Prejudices already endemic in society than to tackle it.
For example, the galvanizing images of the appalling murder of George Floyd by police sparked a long-awaited national focus on the intersection of law enforcement, race and justice. AI can absolutely help identify and find suspects faster and more accurately, but when misused and irresponsibly, based on already biased data, it does more harm than damage. good. As we reinvent policing, we need to create better data systems and better technologies to inform our new policies.
While our institutions derive their strength from our objectivity, we also have a collective responsibility to ensure that our advances lead to a safer and more just society. It starts with a more representative bench of social engineers.
Sources of data on the depths of American systemic racism and the lack of progress to address it have mushroomed, giving everyone a clearer picture of what is really going on in our world.
Now the question is: how do you use more compelling evidence to spur action towards needed solutions?
AI can and should be a force to promote equity and inclusion, but it must be used thoughtfully and responsibly to avoid putting countless human lives at risk.
Aware of this risk, Howard University and Mathematical are among the institutions that strive to bring more people of color into STEM fields. Together we sponsored this year Summer Institute in Computational Social Sciences at Howard University, a historically black research university in Washington, DC
Related: Even as colleges pledge to improve, share of engineering and math graduates who are black is declining
The Summer Institute is a global program that focuses on the critical intersection of data science and social science and helps educate the next generation of leading scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technology innovators.
A key theme of this year’s Virtual Summer Institute, open to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and young faculty from all over the world, was to ensure that we are developing a new generation of computational social science researchers. to use emerging technologies and tools to combat racism instead of reinforcing it; use AI to tackle inequalities instead of perpetuating them.
It is an exciting time for this pursuit. While we were once forced to limit the scope of policy and program evaluations to one or two key research questions, we can now harness new sources of data and new technologies to expand research.
This brings us closer to a more comprehensive answer to the key questions of policy evaluation: does it work? Is it worth it? How to make it more efficient?
Answering these questions will require problem solvers as proficient in traditional social science methods as they are in writing machine learning algorithms and using other data science techniques.
We need social scientists who appreciate the value of newly democratized datasets and think creatively about how they can be applied in new ways to solve persistent problems.
We need data scientists who understand that even the most valuable data has real limits and implications, and that everyone’s perspective can just as easily be the key to unlocking innovative solutions as their analysis.
And most importantly, we need these same people to bring their diverse backgrounds, lived experiences and passion to better inform evidence and analysis for the future.
Innovation is not inherently good. As we often discuss with our colleagues and students, being objective in the face of injustice does not mean being silent. While our institutions derive their strength from our objectivity, we also have a collective responsibility to ensure that our advances lead to a safer and more just society.
It starts with a more representative bench of social engineers.
Wayne AI Frederick is President of Howard University and Professor of Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine.
Paul Decker is the President and CEO of Mathematica, an independent research and policy analysis firm.
This story on equity and STEM was produced by The Hechinger report, an independent, non-profit news organization focused on inequalities and innovation in education. Subscribe to Hechinger newsletter.