Abebe is one of 28 scholars, journalists and authors to receive the honor and a $200,000 stipend to support their work addressing significant societal challenges from climate change to political polarization. Her Carnegie-funded research will focus on auditing and evaluating evidentiary statistical software used in the criminal legal system.
"Current structures have little-to-no incentive to enable adequate evaluation of statistical software used at all stages of the criminal legal system, from pre-trial to investigation and even for producing evidence," Abebe said. "The result is an unjust system propped by the use of flawed, yet infrequently scrutinized, tools.”
Abebe and Berkeley School of Law's Rebecca Wexler will lead a team to audit forensic software widely used in criminal cases. Abebe will also work with non-profit and civil society organizations to support public defenders in identifying, understanding and contextualizing in court the use of improperly validated algorithms and software and the reliability of those tools' results.
John DeGioia, the chair of the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program jury, touted the important contributions the fellows, including Abebe, have already made to society. Their future work could be significant, too, he said.
“We believe that this year’s fellows show extraordinary potential for lasting impact,” said DeGioia, who is also the president of Georgetown University.
Abebe has made a name for herself through conducting award-winning, inequality-centered computer science research. To foster research in this emerging area, in 2021, Abebe helped launch the ACM Conference on Equity and Access in Algorithms, Mechanisms, and Optimization (EAAMO). The second conference in the series will take place in DC in October.
She also co-founded two key organizations aimed at diversifying the artificial intelligence field and tackling problems affecting marginalized groups worldwide.
In 2016, Abebe co-founded Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) to foster interdisciplinary collaborations addressing problems that affect disadvantaged populations across the world. She also co-founded Black in AI in 2017 to increase the presence and inclusion of Black people in the artificial intelligence field.
Before joining UC Berkeley, Abebe was a junior fellow in Harvard University’s Society of Fellows. She earned her Ph.D. in computer science at Cornell University. She also holds graduate degrees in mathematics from Harvard University and the University of Cambridge.