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Digital Interests Lab Funded by Microsoft

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NYU Steinhardt’s Digital Interests Lab has received a $375,000 gift from the Microsoft Corporation to fund two postdoctoral fellowship positions that will work in concert to increase racial equity and justice in data-driven computing.

 

Part of the NYU Steinhardt’s Center for Practice and Research at the Intersection of Information, Society, and Methodology (PRIISM), the Digital Interests Lab explores public accountability for emerging data technology through research, scholarship, and community engagement. 

“The Digital Interests Lab explores public accountability in the digital environment,” says Anne L. Washington, assistant professor of data policy and the Lab’s director. “It’s about building technology that must work for and be accessible by everyone.”

“These funded postdoctoral positions will advance much-needed scholarship on historic legacies that pose ethical challenges in technology, while also helping to launch the careers of early professionals in the field of public-interest technology.”

Anne L. Washington, Assistant Professor of Data Policy

In the wake of the pandemic, which highlighted deeply rooted social injustices and increased conversations about race and equity in America, Washington saw the opportunity to expand the Lab’s work to begin to change these cultural dynamics by focusing on historic legacies of power imbalances in data collection and usage.

“Many of the algorithmic systems we create in the digital world rely on historical data that inherently reinforces old stereotypes,” says Washington. “These funded postdoctoral positions will advance much-needed scholarship on historic legacies that pose ethical challenges in technology, while also helping to launch the careers of early professionals in the field of public-interest technology.”

The two fellowships bring together complementary skills: the Racial Equity in Tech postdoc will consider how to handle digital infrastructure that reinforces historic injustice in Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities, while the Data Justice postdoc will use technology to promote solutions and new ways of thinking about empowerment, inclusion, and inequality in society.

Alicia Boyd, who just finished her doctorate at DePaul University, will be the Data Justice postdoctoral fellow. Davi Liang recently completed a JD at Washington and Lee School of Law and will serve as the Racial Equity postdoctoral fellow.

For Washington, NYU is an ideal place to undertake these kinds of multidisciplinary and policy-forward research areas: The Center for Critical Race + Digital Studies was launched at NYU Steinhardt and now has a global reach, and colleagues at the Law School’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law are working on similar initiatives to make changes in technology from a legal perspective, opening up possibilities for future collaborations.  

Washington was also a founding member of the Alliance for Public Interest Technology, which addresses these concerns across every school at NYU, including Wagner, Stern, Tandon, Tisch, and the College of Arts & Sciences.

“This kind of scholarship isn’t solely data science or social science or critical studies,” says Washington about understanding justice in digital systems. “NYU Steinhardt allows for interesting interdisciplinary ideas like this to percolate and makes it possible to have grounded conversations that bring public policy into the real world. Together, maybe we can start to move the needle towards better representation for everyone.”

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