Technology Can't Fix Algorithmic Injustice

Annette Zimmerman, Elena Di Rosa and Hochan Kima at Boston Review: “A great deal of recent public debate about artificial intelligence has been driven by apocalyptic visions of the future. Humanity, we are told, is engaged in an existential struggle against its own creation. Such worries are fueled in large part by tech industry leaders and futurists, who anticipate systems so sophisticated that they can perform general tasks and operate autonomously, without human control. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates have all publicly expressed their concerns about the advent of this kind of “strong” (or “general”) AI—and the associated existential risk that it may pose for humanity. In Hawking’s words, the development of strong AI “could spell the end of the human race.”

These are legitimate long-term worries. But they are not all we have to worry about, and placing them center stage distracts from ethical questions that AI is raising here and now. Some contend that strong AI may be only decades away, but this focus obscures the reality that “weak” (or “narrow”) AI is already reshaping existing social and political institutions. Algorithmic decision making and decision support systems are currently being deployed in many high-stakes domains, from criminal justice, law enforcement, and employment decisions to credit scoring, school assignment mechanisms, health care, and public benefits eligibility assessments. Never mind the far-off specter of doomsday; AI is already here, working behind the scenes of many of our social systems.

What responsibilities and obligations do we bear for AI’s social consequences in the present—not just in the distant future? To answer this question, we must resist the learned helplessness that has come to see AI development as inevitable. Instead, we should recognize that developing and deploying weak AI involves making consequential choices—choices that demand greater democratic oversight not just from AI developers and designers, but from all members of society….(More)”.

The Case for an Institutionally Owned Knowledge Infrastructure

Article by James W. Weis, Amy Brand and Joi Ito: “Science and technology are propelled forward by the sharing of knowledge. Yet despite their vital importance in today’s innovation-driven economy, our knowledge infrastructures have failed to scale with today’s rapid pace of research and discovery.

For example, academic journals, the dominant dissemination platforms of scientific knowledge, have not been able to take advantage of the linking, transparency, dynamic communication and decentralized authority and review that the internet enables. Many other knowledge-driven sectors, from journalism to law, suffer from a similar bottleneck — caused not by a lack of technological capacity, but rather by an inability to design and implement efficient, open and trustworthy mechanisms of information dissemination.

Fortunately, growing dissatisfaction with current knowledge-sharing infrastructures has led to a more nuanced understanding of the requisite features that such platforms must provide. With such an understanding, higher education institutions around the world can begin to recapture the control and increase the utility of the knowledge they produce.

When the World Wide Web emerged in the 1990s, an era of robust scholarship based on open sharing of scientific advancements appeared inevitable. The internet — initially a research network — promised a democratization of science, universal access to the academic literature and a new form of open publishing that supported the discovery and reuse of knowledge artifacts on a global scale. Unfortunately, however, that promise was never realized. Universities, researchers and funding agencies, for the most part, failed to organize and secure the investment needed to build scalable knowledge infrastructures, and publishing corporations moved in to solidify their position as the purveyors of knowledge.

In the subsequent decade, such publishers have consolidated their hold. By controlling the most prestigious journals, they have been able to charge for access — extracting billions of dollars in subscription fees while barring much of the world from the academic literature. Indeed, some of the world’s wealthiest academic institutions are no longer able or willing to pay the subscription costs required.

Further, by controlling many of the most prestigious journals, publishers have also been able to position themselves between the creation and consumption of research, and so wield enormous power over peer review and metrics of scientific impact. Thus, they are able to significantly influence academic reputation, hirings, promotions, career progressions and, ultimately, the direction of science itself.

But signs suggest that the bright future envisioned in the early days of the internet is still within reach. Increasing awareness of, and dissatisfaction with, the many bottlenecks that the commercial monopoly on research information has imposed are stimulating new strategies for developing the future’s knowledge infrastructures. One of the most promising is the shift toward infrastructures created and supported by academic institutions, the original creators of the information being shared, and nonprofit consortia like the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation and the Center for Open Science.

Those infrastructures should fully exploit the technological capabilities of the World Wide Web to accelerate discovery, encourage more research support and better structure and transmit knowledge. By aligning academic incentives with socially beneficial outcomes, such a system could enrich the public while also amplifying the technological and societal impact of investment in research and innovation.

We’ve outlined below the three areas in which a shift to an academically owned platforms would yield the highest impact.

  • Truly Open Access
  • Meaningful Impact Metrics
  • Trustworthy Peer Review….(More)”.

Philosophy Is a Public Service

Jonathon Keats at Nautilus: “…One of my primary techniques, adapted from philosophy, is to undertake large-scale thought experiments. In these experiments, I create alternative realities that provide perspectives on our own society, and provoke dialogue about who and what we want to become. Another of my techniques is to create philosophical instruments: tools and devices with which people can collectively investigate the places they inhabit.

The former technique is exemplified by Centuries of the Bristlecone, and other environmentally-calibrated clocks I’m developing in other cities, such as a timepiece modulated by the flow of rivers in Alaska, currently in planning at the Anchorage Museum.

The latter is exemplified by a project I initiated in Berlin in 2014, which I’ve now instigated in cities around the world. It’s a new kind of camera that produces a single exposure over a span of 100 years. People hide these cameras throughout their city, providing a means for the next generation to observe the decisions that citizens make about their urban environment: decisions about development and gentrification and sustainability. In a sense, these devices are intergenerational surveillance cameras. They prompt people to consider the long-term impact of their actions. They encourage people to act in ways that will change the picture to reflect what they want the next generation to see.

But the truth is that most of my projects—perhaps even the two I’ve just mentioned—combine techniques from philosophy and many other disciplines. In order to map out possible futures for society, especially while navigating the shifting terrain of climate change, the philosopher-explorer needs to be adaptable. And most likely you won’t have all the skills and tools you need. I believe that anyone can become a philosopher-explorer. The practice benefits from more practitioners. No particular abilities are needed, except a capacity for collaboration.

Ayear ago, I was invited by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics to envision the city of the future. Through Fraunhofer’s artist-in-lab program, I had the opportunity to work with leading scientists and engineers, and to run computer simulations and physical experiments on state-of-the-art equipment in Stuttgart and Holzkirchen, Germany.

My starting point was to consider one of the most serious problems faced by cities today: sea level rise. Global sea levels are expected to increase by two-and-a-half meters by the end of the century, and as much as 15 meters in the next 300 years. With 11 percent of the world population living less than 10 meters above the current sea level, many cities will probably be submerged in the future: mega-cities including New York and Shanghai. One likely response is that people will migrate inland, seeking ever higher elevations.

The question I asked myself was this: Would it make more sense to stay put?…(More)”.

Understanding Is a Design Problem: Cognizing from a Designerly Thinking Perspective

Paper by Michael Lissack: “Understanding and cognition are traditionally viewed as philosophical and scientific issues where there is little room for contribution from the design community. This article proposes a radically different approach based on the observation that we live in a world that is more complex than our minds/brains possess the ability to process in its entirety. Our limited equipment forces us to deal with only selected aspects of any given piece of that complex world at each instant. Selection—be it conscious or unconscious—involves agency and choice. Design and design thinking scholars have much to say about how agency and choice can be impacted by still other choices—context, symbols, movement, audience, and so on. Suppose cognition and meaning making were re-cast as design processes? This would highlight the role played by cybernetics—the science of how we learn how to steer—in shaping how we cognitively deal with the world. Together design and cybernetics have much to offer the cognitive sciences….(More)”

Policy Perspectives on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing

Special Issue edited by Lea A. Shanley, Alison Parker, Sven Schade, and Aletta Bonn: “Citizen science encompasses a range of methodologies that support meaningful contributions of the public to the advancement of scientific and engineering research and monitoring, in ways that may include identifying research questions; conducting scientific investigations; collecting, processing, and analyzing data; developing scientific hardware and software; and solving complex problems. As an emerging field, citizen science has been described in a variety of ways (e.g., Auerbach et al. 2019Eitzel et al. 2017Hecker et al. 2019Heigl et al. 2019Shanley, Hulbert, and Auerbach 2019). Similarly, crowdsourcing is a methodology that engages a large group of people through an open call to tackle a common task or problem, either as individuals or collectively (Howe and Robinson 2005; Howe 2006). This may include asking the public to submit new ideas, designs, algorithms, or data via an online platform or mobile app, which is sometimes incentivized through a prize or challenge.

The defining characteristic of both citizen science and crowdsourcing, however, is their “location at the point where public participation and knowledge production – or societal context and epistemology – meet, even if that intersection can take many different forms” (Irwin 2015). Irwin argues that these approaches provide an opportunity to bring members of the public and science closer together, to consider the possibilities for a more active “scientific citizenship,” [and] “to link these issues into public policy.” As several recent studies have demonstrated, citizen science and crowdsourcing can help to provide the evidence-base to inform a wide range of management and public policy decisions while fostering civic partnerships with government…

More than two decades after the publication of Irwin’s seminal book on citizen science (Irwin 1995), we see an increasing awareness and use of citizen science by national governments and multilateral organizations to address both scientific and societal challenges (e.g., Haklay 2015Nascimento et al. 2017). Governments in the United States and Europe, for example, have incorporated citizen science and crowdsourcing as part of their Open Science, Open Innovation, Open Government, and/or Open Data initiatives (e.g., OSTP 20132015OECD 2016EC 2016). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response have used crowdsourcing and citizen science for disaster response and humanitarian relief for nearly a decade (e.g., Shanley et al. 2013), while the United Nations Environment Program is beginning to explore the use of citizen science for addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., Chandler et al. 2017Fritz et al. 2019). This growing support for citizen science and crowdsourcing by government decision-makers and policymakers is a direct result of the focused grassroots efforts of government agency staff, in partnership with professional citizen science associations and organizations such as SciStarter, as well as the strategic positioning of citizen science and crowdsourcing as methods for addressing agency missions and national priorities (e.g., Bowser et al. In preparationGöbel et al. 2019Roger et al. 2019Shanley et al. In preparation). Through our contributions to these initiatives, the editorial team was inspired to propose this Special Issue on Policy Perspectives for Citizen Science….(More)”.

Open Science, Open Data, and Open Scholarship: European Policies to Make Science Fit for the Twenty-First Century

Paper by Jean-Claude Burgelman et al: “Open science will make science more efficient, reliable, and responsive to societal challenges. The European Commission has sought to advance open science policy from its inception in a holistic and integrated way, covering all aspects of the research cycle from scientific discovery and review to sharing knowledge, publishing, and outreach. We present the steps taken with a forward-looking perspective on the challenges laying ahead, in particular the necessary change of the rewards and incentives system for researchers (for which various actors are co-responsible and which goes beyond the mandate of the European Commission). Finally, we discuss the role of artificial intelligence (AI) within an open science perspective….(More)”.

Missions: A beginner's guide

UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose: “…The 21st century is becoming increasingly defined by the need to respond to major issues facing society, the environment around us and the possibility of developing a prosperous equal economy. Sometimes referred to as ‘grand challenges’, these include climate change, ageing societies, preventative healthcare, and generating sustainable growth for the benefit of all.

Innovation has not just a rate but also a direction. How that direction is set — not just by the government but by different actors and socio-political forces — is a key aspect of IIPP’s work. But how should we decide which direction? We use the concept of public value as a way to think about which direction innovation and industrial policy takes. Public value is value that is created collectively for a public purpose — this requires citizens to engage in defining purpose, nurturing capabilities and capacities, assess the value created, and ensure that societal value is distributed equitably…(More)”.

The Golden Age of Social Science

Essay by Anastasia Buyalskaya, Marcos Gallo and Colin Camerer: “In this short essay we argue that social science is entering a golden age, marked by explosive growth in new data and analytic methods, interdisciplinarity, and a recognition that both of those ingredients are necessary to solve hard problems. Two examples are given to illustrate these themes, which are behavioral economics and social networks. Numerous other specific study examples are then given. We also address the challenges that accompany the three positive trends, which include informatics, career incentives, and the search for unifying frameworks….(More)”.

Is There a Crisis of Truth?

Essay by Steven Shapin: “…It seems irresponsible or perverse to reject the idea that there is a Crisis of Truth. No time now for judicious reflection; what’s needed is a full-frontal attack on the Truth Deniers. But it’s good to be sure about the identity of the problem before setting out to solve it. Conceiving the problem as a Crisis of Truth, or even as a Crisis of Scientific Authority, is not, I think, the best starting point. There’s no reason for complacency, but there is reason to reassess which bits of our culture are in a critical state and, once they are securely identified, what therapies are in order.

Start with the idea of Truth. What could be more important, especially if the word is used — as it often is in academic writing — as a placeholder for Reality? But there’s a sort of luminous glow around the notion of Truth that prejudges and pre-processes the attitudes proper to entertain about it. The Truth goes marching on. God is Truth. The Truth shall set you free. Who, except the mad and the malevolent, could possibly be against Truth? It was, after all, Pontius Pilate who asked, “What is Truth?” — and then went off to wash his hands.

So here’s an only apparently pedantic hint about how to construe Truth and also about why our current problem might not be described as a Crisis of Truth. In modern common usage, Truth is a notably uncommon term. The natural home of Truth is not in the workaday vernacular but in weekend, even language-gone-on-holiday, scenes. The notion of Truth tends to crop up when statements about “what’s the case” are put under pressure, questioned, or picked out for celebration. Statements about “the case” can then become instances of the Truth, surrounded by an epistemic halo. Truth is invoked when we swear to tell it — “the whole Truth and nothing but” — in legal settings or in the filling-out of official forms when we’re cautioned against departing from it; or in those sorts of school and bureaucratic exams where we’re made to choose between True and False. Truth is brought into play when it’s suspected that something of importance has been willfully obscured — as when Al Gore famously responded to disbelief in climate change by insisting on “an inconvenient truth” or when we demand to be told the Truth about the safety of GMOs. [2]

Truth-talk appears in such special-purpose forums as valedictory statements where scientists say that their calling is a Search for Truth. And it’s worth considering the difference between saying that and saying they’re working to sequence a breast cancer gene or to predict when a specific Indonesian volcano is most likely to erupt. Truth stands to Matters-That-Are-the-Case roughly as incantations, proverbs, and aphorisms stand to ordinary speech. Truth attaches more to some formal intellectual practices than to others — to philosophy, religion, art, and, of course, science, even though in science there is apparent specificity. Compare those sciences that seem good fits with the notion of a Search for Truth to those that seem less good fits: theoretical physics versus seismology, academic brain science versus research on the best flavoring for a soft drink. And, of course, Truth echoes around philosophy classrooms and journals, where theories of what it is are advanced, defended, and endlessly disputed. Philosophers collectively know that Truth is very important, but they don’t collectively know what it is.

I’ve said that Truth figures in worries about the problems of knowledge we’re said to be afflicted with, where saying that we have a Crisis of Truth both intensifies the problem and gives it a moral charge. In May 2019, Angela Merkel gave the commencement speech at Harvard. Prettily noting the significance of Harvard’s motto, Veritas, the German Chancellor described the conditions for academic inquiry, which, she said, requires that “we do not describe lies as truth and truth as lies,” nor that “we accept abuses [Missstände] as normal.” The Harvard audience stood and cheered: they understood the coded political reference to Trump and evidently agreed that the opposite of Truth was a lie — not just a statement that didn’t match reality but an intentional deception. You can, however, think of Truth’s opposite as nonsense, error, or bullshit, but calling it a lie was to position Truth in a moral field. Merkel was not giving Harvard a lesson in philosophy but a lesson in global civic virtue….(More)”.

The Crowd and the Cosmos: Adventures in the Zooniverse

Book by Chris Lintott: “The world of science has been transformed. Where once astronomers sat at the controls of giant telescopes in remote locations, praying for clear skies, now they have no need to budge from their desks, as data arrives in their inbox. And what they receive is overwhelming; projects now being built provide more data in a few nights than in the whole of humanity’s history of observing the Universe. It’s not just astronomy either – dealing with this deluge of data is the major challenge for scientists at CERN, and for biologists who use automated cameras to spy on animals in their natural habitats. Artificial intelligence is one part of the solution – but will it spell the end of human involvement in scientific discovery?

No, argues Chris Lintott. We humans still have unique capabilities to bring to bear – our curiosity, our capacity for wonder, and, most importantly, our capacity for surprise. It seems that humans and computers working together do better than computers can on their own. But with so much scientific data, you need a lot of scientists – a crowd, in fact. Lintott found such a crowd in the Zooniverse, the web-based project that allows hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers to contribute to science.

In this book, Lintott describes the exciting discoveries that people all over the world have made, from galaxies to pulsars, exoplanets to moons, and from penguin behavior to old ship’s logs. This approach builds on a long history of so-called “citizen science,” given new power by fast internet and distributed data. Discovery is no longer the remit only of scientists in specialist labs or academics in ivory towers. It’s something we can all take part in. As Lintott shows, it’s a wonderful way to engage with science, yielding new insights daily. You, too, can help explore the Universe in your lunch hour…(More)”.