Leading Civil Rights, Consumer, and Technology Advocates Urge NIST to Promote Equitable Artificial Intelligence

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 13, 2021

Media Contact: Izzy Woodruff | 202-898-1661 | IWoodruff@nationalfairhousing.org

Leading Civil Rights, Consumer, and Technology Advocates Urge NIST to Promote Equitable Artificial Intelligence

Washington, D.C. — A diverse group of leading civil rights, consumer, and technology advocates have submitted a detailed and comprehensive comment letter to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) in response to their request for comment on their Proposal for Identifying and Managing Bias within Artificial Intelligence (“NIST Proposal”), which was issued on June 22, 2021.

The NIST Proposal comes at a time when America is once again at a critical crossroads in determining whether to develop equitable systems that serve and uplift the whole of the market, or systems that perpetuate, amplify, and even exacerbate existing discriminatory patterns. The advocates believe that the time to act is now as the use of artificial intelligence (“AI”) proliferates in every aspect of American life and has the potential for far-reaching adverse impacts for people of color and other protected groups that could overshadow even the devastation of past government policies.

Michael Akinwumi, PhD, Chief Tech Equity Officer at the National Fair Housing Alliance, released the following statement:

“It is critically important for NIST to propose a framework that ensures that AI risk analysis works hand in hand with discrimination risk analysis. Moreover, efforts to identify AI risks must not exclude or undermine efforts to promote fair and equitable outcomes. Any new AI-related initiatives should be reviewed for potentially illegal discriminatory treatment or effect for communities of color and other underserved communities.”

The advocates believe it is critically important that NIST address the following:

Enhancements to NIST’s Proposal –

  • Non-Discrimination and Equity: NIST should recommend that practitioners take the steps needed to ensure non-discriminatory and equitable outcomes for all end users of AI systems. Most importantly, NIST should ensure that “model risk” is defined to include the risk of discriminatory or inequitable outcomes for consumers, rather than just the risk of financial loss to an entity.
  • Actionable Policies: NIST should move quickly to issue actionable policy statements that clearly state the commitment to consumer protection and civil rights laws, including fair lending laws; provide insight into their expectations and methods; and provide useful guardrails and best practices.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: NIST should encourage entities engaged in AI model development and deployment to ensure staff working on AI issues reflect diversity, including diversity based on race and national origin.
  • Civil Rights Training for All AI Stakeholders: NIST should encourage all AI stakeholders to receive regular civil rights and racial equity training. Trained professionals are better able to identify and recognize issues that may raise red flags.
  • Transparency for AI Providers: NIST should recommend that AI providers share with the public as much information as possible regarding their AI systems and assessments of those systems to enable researchers and those impacted to evaluate the efficacy and impact of the systems.

Enhancements to NIST’s Process –

  • Action Plan: After review of the comments, NIST should immediately issue a detailed action plan.
  • Engagement: NIST should stay engaged with a diverse group of key stakeholders, including civil rights organizations, consumer advocates, and impacted communities in order to receive ongoing input and feedback on these important decisions.
  • Specialized Civil Rights Staff: NIST should immediately begin hiring staff with specialized skills that can provide guidance to entities on assessing the potentially discriminatory impact of AI systems and that can review those assessments, particularly with respect to discrimination risks.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at NIST: NIST should ensure agency staff working on AI issues reflect diversity, including diversity based on race and national origin.
  • Civil Rights Training for NIST Staff: NIST should ensure that agency staff receive regular civil rights training.
  • Transparency for NIST: NIST should strive to share its methodology, data, models, decisions, and proposed solutions so that all of the key stakeholders can stay apprised of and comment on the potential impact of proposed actions.
  • Public Research: NIST should encourage and support public research that analyzes the efficacy of specific uses of AI and the impact of AI for people and communities of color and other protected classes.

In addition, the National Fair Housing Alliance submitted a separate letter to address the technical aspects of the NIST Proposal.

Click here to read the advocate response to the NIST Proposal.
Click here to read the technical letter submitted by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

The response to the NIST Proposal was issued jointly by the following organizations:

  • AI Blindspot
  • Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund
  • California Reinvestment Coalition
  • Center for Community Progress
  • Center for Responsible Lending
  • Consumer Action
  • Consumer Federation of America
  • Fair Housing Advocates Association
  • Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California
  • Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana
  • Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama
  • Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan
  • Fair Housing Center of West Michigan
  • Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio
  • Integrated Community Solutions, Inc.
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Long Island Housing Services, Inc.
  • Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center
  • Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Inc.
  • MICAH- Metropolitan Interfaith Council on
  • Affordable Housing
  • Mountain State Justice
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)
  • National CAPACD
  • National Coalition For The Homeless
  • National Community Reinvestment Coalition
  • National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)
  • National Fair Housing Alliance
  • North Texas Fair Housing Center
  • NYU Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law
  • SolasAI
  • South Suburban Housing Center
  • Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund
  • Woodstock Institute

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The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is the country’s only national civil rights organization dedicated solely to eliminating all forms of housing and lending discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities for all people. Through its homeownership, credit access, tech equity, education, member services, public policy, community development, and enforcement initiatives, NFHA works to dismantle longstanding barriers to equity and build diverse, inclusive, well-resourced communities. 

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