Phillips questioned Cambridge's appointment of Prof Martin Millett of Fitzwilliam College — to lead a two-year investigative research of ways the university "contributed to or benefited from the Atlantic slave trade and other forms of coerced labour during the colonial era."
Following a televised interview where he criticized the choice of a white academic to lead the study on "Cambridge's entanglement in the legacies of slavery," he posted on Twitter:
Thanks. Fine for uni to study its own history but — no qualified black academics available eg Clare grad Kwame Appiah or Selwyn grad David Dabydeen? And why not task their brilliant AI people to tackle top issue: algorithmic racism. Wake up Cambridge. https://t.co/Sg9fbKzEOR— Trevor Phillips (@TrevorPTweets) May 2, 2019
Phillips used artificial intelligence programmes used to make decisions on mortgage applications and insurance premiums, producing worse outcomes for representatives of ethnic minorities, as an example.
"If (Cambridge) really wanted to tackle this issue of racism, instead of putting these guys in a basement somewhere to look at plantation records from 200 years ago and come up with stuff everybody already knows, they could put some of their brilliant people into this," he said.
Cambridge University responded to the criticism, saying that it has commissioned an eight-member Advisory Group to oversee this two-year inquiry.
"The panel represents a diverse range of experience — with five out of eight members from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. The investigation will also be drawing on the wide views of the BAME academic community. ‘The relationship between artificial intelligence and racial bias is a topic of study at Cambridge's Centre for the Future of Intelligence and features in our landmark AI Ethics Roadmap recently published with the Nuffield Foundation," a Cambridge spokesperson said.