How Can AI Affect LGBTQIA+ People In India? Three Indian-Origin Queer Researchers Explain

How Can AI Affect LGBTQIA+ People In India? Three Indian-Origin Queer Researchers Explain

When one tries to look
up ‘Queer in AI’, the website one first stumbles across is ‘Queer
This is an AI chatbot that was created by a group of
researchers who spotted that AI was inheriting the biases of its creators –
that it was behaving in a way that upheld existing systemic discriminations,
including those against queer people. The researchers trained the Queer AI
models on queer theory and feminist literature, and to pay homage to all queer
people. they later left the website up as free to access for all: as ‘an ethics of
embodiment’, like a message on the website puts it.

Bing Dall-e

The online collective
Queer in AI performs a very similar function – visibilisation of the effects
of AI on queer people – but in the offline world. Created by scientists, it
advocates for the interests of queer people in the field of AI and machine
language via a community of, by, and for queer AI researchers. This includes
outreach programmes such as workshops at conferences, social meetups, mentoring
programs and a financial aid programme for graduate applications.

How Can AI Affect LGBTQIA+ People In India? Three Indian-Origin Queer Researchers Explain

The group has also been
invited to consult on initiatives, including by the Biden government to help
build the government policy for AI and by the National Institute of Health in
the United States to comment on demographic surveys.

Currently, one of the
biggest projects the group is focusing on is advocating for making publishing inclusionary
of transgender people – such as ensuring that Google Scholar avoids using the
deadname, or old name, of transgender authors. The group has helped to make a
dot pdf file checker to parse and correct these names, all compiled in a
website called Scholarhasfailedus.

It has also presented
papers, such as one on community-led participatory design in
which won best paper at the ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and
Transparency (FaccT) for evaluating harms specific to queer communities in
machine learning.

Recently, PM
Modi has called for global regulations to ensure ethical use of AI, after minister of
state for electronics and information technology Rajeev
Chandrasekhar said in June that India will start regulating AI. This is a shift from
the government’s previous stance, as in April it had said that there
was no plan to regulate AI. The Indian government has also opened a portal for ‘India’s AI vision.’

The core team of Queer
in AI has many members who are either Indian or of Indian origin, which is a
group that is prominently represented in the global tech industry. Many of them
work with ethical practices in machine learning. As the AI wave arrives in India,
we spoke to three of them about their greatest concerns.

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“The greatest short-term
danger from generative AI is misinformation,” says 27-year-old Avijit Ghosh, a
Research Data Scientist at AdeptID and a Lecturer in the Khoury College of
Computer Sciences at Northeastern University. “Image and text generation models
can pose a serious risk in India without built-in fact-checking mechanisms,
especially ahead of the general elections in 2024, and I fear they can cause
communal violence if they’re used to spread lies.”

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“AI-based content
moderation on social media sites can also be overwhelmingly censorious for
sexual education and queer people, while doing nothing to combat harm or
homophobia or transphobia,” adds 23-year-old California native Arjun
Subramonian, who is currently doing a PhD on machine learning at UCLA, looking
at how deep learning models intensify structural inequities on social networks.

How Can AI Affect LGBTQIA+ People In India? Three Indian-Origin Queer Researchers Explain

Amplify Implicit Bias

For Ghosh, another major
danger to queer people from AI is from some of its possible uses in predictive
analytics, in which an AI makes predictions by spotting patterns in datasets it
has been trained on. In 2017, a pair of researcher at Stanford University
claimed to have proved that AI could be trained to predict people’s sexual orientation
from facial construction. They said they did it to prove the immense dangers
that AI can pose to privacy.

“It’s a highly unethical application of
digital physiognomy that could have massive implications for privacy and
discrimination, in areas such as jobs or even incarceration,” says Ghosh.

H, a core organiser of
Queer in AI who is of Indian origin and who prefers to remain anonymous,
expands this to other aspects of Indian socio-economic and cultural contexts.

Also read: How College Queer Collectives In India Are Creating Inclusive Spaces On Campus

How Can AI Affect LGBTQIA+ People In India? Three Indian-Origin Queer Researchers Explain

“Applications of AI in
many fields could be replicating majoritarian biases such as caste,” they say.
“All our discussions regarding AI and queer people must be intersectional,
especially because although upper-caste Indians and Indian-Americans are well
represented in tech circles, this is not true for Indians belonging to gender,
sexuality, caste, religion and disabled minority communities.”

Judicial system

“One of my biggest
concerns with regard to India is the use of AI by the government in judicial
systems,” says H. “This includes surveillance – we now have cameras everywhere,
and its data goes to the police. Could it be used to start predicting who could
be a criminal based on appearance?”

This has already
happened in multiple parts of the world. Risk assessment systems that use AI
models often predict that black people are more likely to commit crimes – even if the evidence
proves otherwise. In the Indian context, Ghosh points out a paper by Vidushi
Marda and Shivangi Narayan that showed that an AI-based predictive policing system in New Delhi
affected poor people more.

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Such biases could
certainly extend to queer people as well, says Subramonian. “If you don’t have
a normative body with respect to gender, you could be at increased risk of police brutality,” they say.

Job Losses

As generative AI, such
as text and image generators, is mass adopted, many jobs that are done by
humans now may become automated or machine-led to a much greater extent – we’ve
already seen writing, music and art by AI being adopted across industries. Many
experts have warned that India is not equipped to handle the impact of these job losses. Some reports have said that this
year alone, 4,000 jobs in the tech industry have already been lost to

“If AI systems are used
to devalue or replace human labour to cut costs, it means queer people could
lose access to family, housing, insurance and other services tied to jobs, and
health insurance can be precarious for them anyway,” says Subramonian.

How Can AI Affect LGBTQIA+ People In India? Three Indian-Origin Queer Researchers Explain

Mitigation measures

“AI education and AI
regulation are both hugely important,” says Ghosh. “There needs to be intensive
training in awareness of harms and dangers from AI. People need to be taught
how to use it ethically and warned that it can replicate or worsen biases and
throw up massive intellectual property issues. Finally, models need to be
trained properly in Indian cultural contexts.”

“As things stand, India
does not have AI-specific regulation,” said non-profit organization Internet
Freedom Foundation’s policy director, Prateek Waghre. “Automated decision-making will likely muddy
the waters further because the use of such systems can be used to limit transparency
and shield (authorities) from accountability.” 

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The IT Rules 2021
include clauses that state that authorities must take due diligence measures to
ensure that the data that they have on an individual is not misleading in any
way, which should technically extend to misinformation generated by AI models.
The Foundation’s research shows that these obligations are often caveated by
exemptions, subjective application, and abuses of power. And though Transgender
Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 prohibit discrimination against trans
people, implementation is already spotty. Meanwhile, there is no such
protection against homophobia, at least in the present form of the Indian Penal

How Can AI Affect LGBTQIA+ People In India? Three Indian-Origin Queer Researchers Explain

“The use of generative AI may add another
dimension to (this), but our current institutional framework and societal
resistance to such information is already weak,” Waghre adds.

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“One way to neutralise
bias in AI is understanding and curating the data in certain ways, which is
done during the exploratory data analysis phase – or EDA – before training the
models,” says data scientist Anirban Saha. “During this phase, it is important
to spot any lack of balance in data and then curate it so as to neutralise the

Saha adds that data
scientists should try interpreting predictions or results given by AI models to
help them spot biases in the results, if any, before releasing it to the public.

“The government thus
needs to encourage companies and students developing AI systems to implement
these methods, via its agencies,” he says. He adds that there needs to be
avenues for penalising entities using systems proven to have biases.

However, most of the
work about elimination of bias in language processing is being done in English.
The unique needs of India, with its many languages, religions, castes, creeds
and, of course, queer communities, are not being met via this work.

How Can AI Affect LGBTQIA+ People In India? Three Indian-Origin Queer Researchers Explain

“Another option may be
to provide open-source packages for people to detect bias in AI, on
marketplaces such as Hugging Face,” says Saha, “But for the packages to be
made, first the data regarding bias in the Indian context needs to be put

On the other hand,
unionisation might help to cushion the effects of AI such as job losses.  While Ghosh says that techno-fetishism – or
the idea that technology can solve everything, with no nuance involved – is the
real problem to be tackled, Subramonian says, “Technology needs to be developed
ethically; developers need to think about who can be negatively affected by it
once it’s been deployed.” 

“Queer in AI has
consulted with the US government regarding AI policies, as part of which some
big AI companies have agreed to add watermarking to their generative models,”
says Ghosh. “The Indian government needs to start enforcing this immediately.”

As India embraces the
use of AI, conferences are also starting to be held. An upcoming one is Cypher
2023, an AI summit discussing ‘The Fusion of Art and AI: Navigating the Impact
of Artificial Intelligence in the Creative Industry.’

“As a virtual group,
Queer in AI has no local chapters, but we’d love to organise a session at any
AI conference in India,” says H. “We’re certainly open to consulting with
Indian government if invited to do so.”

For more stories on the LGBTQIA+ community and queerness in India, keep reading Spectrum on TIT Education.

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