C. Brandon Ogbunu on Afrofuturism as a Tech Framework

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Science fiction has long been a medium for bringing light to societal issues, including religion, culture and race. It helps us imagine futures of hope and prosperity or warns of dystopian nightmares. And our experience of race plays a central role in our understanding of science fiction. “There’s this amazing quote from Junot Díaz, the Pulitizer Prize-winning writer, where he basically says that if it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense, right?. If it wasn’t for the extermination of so many Indigenous First Nations, most of science fiction first-contact stories don’t make sense,” says C. Brandon Ogbunu. What Afrofuturism seeks to do is reimagine the future by putting the Black diaspora community at the centre.

In this episode of Big Tech, host Taylor Owen speaks to C. Brandon Ogbunu, a computational biologist and technologist and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University. Taylor and Brandon discuss how Afrofuturism can bring about a more diverse, inclusive community of tech start-ups and tech platforms.

Technology platforms are riddled with algorithmic bias, resulting from blind spots that exist within each development team. As many platforms span geographies, cultures and languages, it is increasingly important to be aware of the many potential harms that can result from the way the software is developed and deployed. Traditionally, Silicon Valley companies are managed by white males with a specific world view. “Anybody who is familiar with the technology and has ever been racially profiled would immediately see the problems there. I think the problem, the reason why this stuff was not a part of the conversation up front, is because the people designing the technology have never been affected by it,” says Ogbunu. He sees works of Afrofuturism, such as art, music and film, as vehicles to lift the sense of impossibility and constraint and to inspire Black and other under-represented communities to create and build new technologies and businesses.

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