Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When Algorithms Discriminate

A NY Times article says:
But can computer programs be discriminatory?

There is a widespread belief that software and algorithms that rely on data are objective.
Another says:
“Algorithms aren’t subjective,” he said. “Bias comes from people.”
Somehow Google has been the big beneficiary of such thinking. People widely believe that Google searches are objective algorithms, and therefore not subject to human second-guessing.

Of course Google employs a couple thousand engineers who hand-tune search tables so that result will align with its business purposes.

Yes, algorithms discriminate. That is their purpose. Even if they are just trying to discriminate in favor of people willing to spend more money online, that will be correlated with all sorts of other discriminators.

More and more our lives are determined by algorithms, and they can be doing good or evil.

An artificial intelligence site argues:
These four claims form the core of the argument that artificial intelligence is important: there is such a thing as general reasoning ability; if we build general reasoners, they could be far smarter than humans; if they are far smarter than humans, they could have an immense impact; and that impact will not be beneficial by default.
The Less Wrong folks have similar concerns.

Their arguments are fairly convincing. And opinions will vary about what is beneficial. But I cannot endorse this open letter against autonomous weapons, signed by many famous experts and intellectuals. These weapons are coming, just like self-driving cars, and good engineering can make them useful.

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