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Peter Kirstein Lecture Series 2021

Professor Peter Kirstein

What is the Peter Kirstein Lecture Series?

The Peter Kirstein lecture is the flagship lecture for the Department of Computer Science at UCL. It was so named to honour the life and work of Peter Kirstein, the founding head of UCL Computer Science and a major figure in the development of the field of Computer Science globally. Peter was a visionary who pushed at the boundaries of what we knew and what we could do, often in the face of disapproval and difficulties from more conservative voices. As a result, he was instrumental in changing the nature of society, not just in the ‘developed’ world, but in countries working to establish themselves following the collapse of the Soviet Union, amongst others.

In discussion with Peter himself, we decided that the ideas for each lecture should be generated in conjunction with new members of staff and the series should be bold in the speakers it seeks to invite, to challenge orthodoxy and to encourage debate. This year has both: the speaker, Prof. Ruha Benjamin, is from outside Computer Science, but has a powerful perspective on the effect of technology on society and the power of society to shape technology. The organisation of the lecture has been driven by Prof. Marc Deisenroth, who was last year appointed as the DeepMind Chair in Artificial Intelligence in the department.

AI is but the latest in the series of technologies from Computer Science that have driven global societal change. It is hugely important that we continuously consider the direction of that change, the forces behind it, and the power it has to include or exclude. It is an important part of Peter’s legacy that this department is ever willing to challenge orthodoxy, be open to new ways of thinking about problems and opportunities, and to take a broad perspective that encompasses both technology and society. We are excited to invite you to join us for Ruha’s lecture, which promises exactly that.

This is the second in the series of lectures in honour of Professor Peter Kirstein. This event also forms part of the 2021 celebrations of 40+ years of UCL Computer Science.


2021 Peter Kirstein Lecture

Professor Ruha Benjamin

UCL Computer Science presents: Peter Kirstein Lecture Series 2021
Race to the Future? Reimagining the Default Settings of Technology & Society

From everyday apps to complex algorithms, technology has the potential to hide, speed, and deepen discrimination, while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to racist practices of a previous era. In this talk, Ruha Benjamin explores a range of discriminatory designs that encode inequity -- what she terms the “New Jim Code.”

This presentation takes us into the world of biased bots, altruistic algorithms, and their many entanglements, and provides conceptual tools to decode tech promises with historical and sociological insight. Ruha will also consider how race itself is a kind of tool designed to stratify and sanctify social injustice and discuss how technology is and can be used toward liberatory ends. In doing so, Ruha challenges us to question not only the technologies we are sold, but also the ones we manufacture ourselves

Chaired and hosted by:
Professor Steve Hailes: Head of Department, UCL Computer Science
Professor Marc Deisenroth: DeepMind Chair in Artificial Intelligence, UCL Computer Science

About the speaker
Ruha Benjamin is Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab, and author of the award-winning book /Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code /among many other publications.

Her work investigates the social dimensions of science, medicine, and technology with a focus on the relationship between innovation and inequity, health and justice, knowledge and power. Professor Benjamin is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, Institute for Advanced Study, and the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton.