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Feb 24, 2023

Interviewer: RAFAEL KHACHATURIAN. As with all aspects of American life, Black people were part of the digital revolution from the beginning. CHARLTON MCILWAIN’s work explores multiple strands of this history, in which African Americans appear as both creative subjects and objects of social control. In his discussion with political theorist Rafael Khachaturian, he tells of early pioneers who developed software and created networked digital communities before the Internet became widespread. In a second strand, however, he reveals that computational science focused on crime in minority communities as one of its central problems in the late 1960s and 1970s, providing the groundwork not only for the NYPD’s COMPStat system, but much of the AI-assisted surveillance technology that has become so widespread today. These strands came together in the Black Lives Matter movement: a distinctively Black use of social media to counter police violence. McIlwain is the author of  Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter.