Dec. 27, 2016

Alondra Nelson : Race, Genetics and Reconciliation

Alondra Nelson () is the Dean of . An interdisciplinary social scientist, she writes about the intersections of science, technology, medicine, and inequality. She is author of the award-winning book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the...

Alondra Nelson (@alondra) is the Dean of Social Science at Columbia University. An interdisciplinary social scientist, she writes about the intersections of science, technology, medicine, and inequality. She is author of the award-winning book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. Her latest book, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations and Reconciliation after the Genome, was published in January.

In this episode, we discussed:

  • the meaning and importance of "racial reconciliation" and the potential for genetic research in helping to promote it.
  • the extent to which the concept of race is based on biology as opposed to being socially-constructed.
  • the role of DNA evidence in historical analysis.
  • key national priorities policymakers ought to focus on as they consider ways in which genetic research can help to advance social equality.


Columbia University Division of Social Science

The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome by Alondra Nelson

Dark Matters on the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne



FCC Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly sent a letter to associations representing Internet Service Providers saying they plan to roll back the FCC's net neutrality rules. The FCC passed the landmark rules which state that ISPs must treat all internet traffic equally, without prioritizing their own content, in 2015. The rules were subsequently upheld by a 3-judge DC Circuit Panel.

A complete reversal of the rules would take some time, since a public comment period would need to be conducted first. Ajit Pai, who is expected to serve as the interim FCC Chairman once current Chairman Wheeler resigns in January, has said the days of the net neutrality rules are quote-unquote "numbered".


The FCC has passed new rules enabling consumers who are deaf and hard of hearing to communicate. Previously, those who are deaf and hard of hearing had to rely on clunky, so-called teletype (TTY) devices to communicate with others. TTY devices converted tones into text and required the recipients to read on paper. Under the new rules, the FCC will now require wireless carriers and device manufacturers to enable "real time" text messaging, or RTT standard, which allows messaging recipients to see, in real time, what deaf and hard of hearing individuals are communicating. Sam Gustin has the story in Motherboard.


Researchers at Google, UT Austin, and the Toyota Technological Institute in Chicago have devised a new way to test algorithms for biases. Examples of biases in machine learning have included computer programs that take data and target black neighborhoods, show advertisements for payday loans to African Americans and Latinos, or display executive-level jobs only to white male applicants.

The approach developed by the researchers, entitled the Equality of Opportunity in Supervised Learning, would enable algorithms to determine that particular demographic groups were more likely to have particular behaviors, but would not target or exclude all individuals based on their race, ethnicity or gender, simply because some individuals within a particular sample had the behaviors. For example, if the algorithm determined that white women were in general more likely to buy wine, and then conclude that someone who bought wine was likely to be a white woman, that would be less biased than excluding non-white women from ad campaigns for white wine. Hannah Devlin has the story in The Guardian.

Separately, the White House released a report warning of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the workforce. The report concludes AI can lead to significant economic opportunities, but have detrimental impact on millions of workers.


Nokia has sued Apple for patent infringement in Germany and in a federal court in Texas, accusing Apple of not renewing some patents the mobile industry relies on, and which Nokia now relies on for profit. Apple is stating that Nokia is acting like a patent troll by extorting Apple and not licensing the patents on reasonable terms. Nate Lanxon, Ian King and Joel Rosenblatt have the story at Bloomberg.


Two consumer groups have filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against Google accusing it of privacy violations after the company updated its privacy policy back in June. Consumer Watchdog and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse claim the company had its users opt-in to a privacy change in which the company allegedly merged data from several Google services without providing adequate notice. Craig Timberg has the story in the Washington Post.


Pinterest released its diversity data, and while the company hit some of its internal hiring goals, black employment at the company remains at 2% with Hispanic employment at 4% of the company's total, tech and non-tech workforce.


Facebook released its annual Global Government Requests report showing a 27% uptick globally in the number of government requests for user data, to over 59,000 total requests.


Finally, HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced a major White House initiative to help students living in HUD-assisted housing to gain access to computers and the internet at home. In the partnership between HUD, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, the New York City Housing Authority and T-Mobile, 5,000 families living in public housing in the Bronx will get internet connected tablets. The ConnectHome program has thus far reached 43 states, with other major partners including Google Fiber, Comcast, AT&T, Sprint, Best Buy, the Boys and Girls Club of America, PBS, and others.