Hacking Discrimination is a brainstorming event held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States last month. Spearheaded by MIT graduates Elaine Harris and Lisa Egbuonu-Davis in partnership with the MIT Alumni Association, the event was initiated in response to a spate of tragic shootings in the country. Participants presented 11 pitches at the two-day event – each centred on solving problems facing communities of colour using technology. Here are the three ideas that were able to secure funding:
The Innovation prize was awarded to Taste Voyager, a platform that enables individuals or families to host guests and foster cultural understanding over a home-cooked meal. What started as a platform to help immigrants integrate, went through a complete overhaul. Now, the concept seeks to provide a way to help people from all walks of life to connect and help one another in a safe space. The team, led by Jennifer Williams of the Lincoln Laboratory’s Human Language Technology group secured one of three $1500 prizes.
The Impact prize went to Rahi, a smartphone app that makes shopping easier for recipients of the federally funded Women, Infant, and Children food-assistance programme. The team, led by Hildreth England, assistant director of the Media Lab’s Open Agriculture Initiative, created mockups for a smartphone app and focused on improving “the experience of using it before [shopping], and then in a store because that’s where all of the problems are,” explained England.
The Storytelling prize was awarded to Just-Us and Health, which uses surveys to track the effects of discrimination in neighbourhoods. The initiative builds on an on-going, community-based participatory action research study in low-income neighbourhoods in the United States. The plan is to take materials and questions developed by residents to collect information from their neighbours about discrimination and create a web-based platform to collect information related to experiences of discrimination on a larger scale. These data will be used by nine local community-based organisations for advocacy, planning, and programming decisions, and to inform research around discrimination and health.
The ideas pitched at the event all adopt a human-centred approach to technology design, acknowledging that tech alone won’t make the difference. The hackathon covered a wide range of issues affecting communities of color, including making routine traffic stops less harmful for motorists and police officers, preventing bias in the hiring process by creating a professional profile using a secure blockchain system, flagging unconscious biases using haptic (touch-based) feedback and augmented reality, and providing advice for those who experience discrimination.