Race and Rights in the Digital Age

6 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2018 Last revised: 8 May 2023

Date Written: December 1, 2018


In contributing to a symposium on the 70-year anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), this essay focuses in particular on the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) for race equality. AI is being used to make decisions about individuals’ lives without humans in the loop. An automated system’s “inputs” are designed by human beings. Nonetheless, the “outputs” of AI are machine-generated. That machines can now make such decisions poses a challenge for human rights, which was developed to protect humans (as rights-holders) and to hold humans accountable, as opposed to nonhumans. Optimistic observers had speculated that technology could help usher in a post-racial future, given that automated decision making seemed to be free of human bias. Plus, technology offers the freedom to construct and perform online identities as well as build online communities. However, drawing on new research on how we see and do not see race, this essay argues that even as we move into a digital age of posthumanism and transhumanism, race endures as a construct. Using a critical race theory lens, the essay interrogates the role of machines in making decisions that have racial impacts and the challenges this poses the human rights framework.

Suggested Citation

Powell, Catherine, Race and Rights in the Digital Age (December 1, 2018). 112 AJIL Unbound 339 (2018), Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3257021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3257021 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3257021

Catherine Powell (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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