CRCS Seminars

Participatory AI/ML for Grassroots Data Science by Catherine D'Ignazio

Catherine D'Ignazio

Sep 18, 2023

Critiques of big data, artificial intelligence and the political economies of platforms have been mounting in recent years, with scholars exposing their biased algorithms, extractivist logics and discriminatory outcomes. How, then, can those of us who work with AI, data science and technology use such tools in the service of equity, justice and liberation? Drawing from my forthcoming book Counting Feminicide: Data Feminism in Action (MIT Press, 2024), I describe a case study of building participatory AI/ML systems with grassroots human rights defenders.  Throughout the talk, I will highlight resonances and tensions between our design process and the principles of data feminism, showing how we tried to operationalize these principles in interactive digital tools and machine learning classifiers. It's not all heroic – even with a robust participatory process, many ethical and political and technical questions remain. I hope to surface these to the community so that we may think together about the limitations of designing for justice in hostile political economies.

Speaker Bio

Catherine D’Ignazio is an Associate Professor of Urban Science and Planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. She is also Director of the Data + Feminism Lab which uses data and computational methods to work towards gender and racial justice, particularly in relation to space and place. D’Ignazio is a scholar, artist/designer and hacker mama who focuses on feminist technology, data literacy and civic engagement. She has run reproductive justice hackathons, designed global news recommendation systems, and created talking and tweeting water quality sculptures. With Rahul Bhargava, she built the platform, a suite of tools and activities to introduce newcomers to data science. Her book, Data Feminism (MIT Press 2020), co-authored with Lauren F. Klein, charts a course for more ethical and empowering data science practices. Since 2019, she has co-organized Data Against Feminicide, a participatory action-research-design project, with Isadora Cruxên, Silvana Fumega and Helena Suárez Val which includes AI tools for human rights data activists. D'Ignazio's forthcoming book, Counting Feminicide: Data Feminism in Action (MIT Press 2024), highlights how mainstream data science can learn a lot from the care and memory work of grassroots feminist activists across the Americas.


Mark Peterson


Mark Peterson