New mathematical idea reins in AI bias towards making unethical and costly commercial choices


The University of Warwick: “Researchers from the University of Warwick, Imperial College London, EPFL (Lausanne) and Sciteb Ltd have found a mathematical means of helping regulators and business manage and police Artificial Intelligence systems’ biases towards making unethical, and potentially very costly and damaging commercial choices—an ethical eye on AI.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly deployed in commercial situations. Consider for example using AI to set prices of insurance products to be sold to a particular customer. There are legitimate reasons for setting different prices for different people, but it may also be profitable to ‘game’ their psychology or willingness to shop around.

The AI has a vast number of potential strategies to choose from, but some are unethical and will incur not just moral cost but a significant potential economic penalty as stakeholders will apply some penalty if they find that such a strategy has been used—regulators may levy significant fines of billions of Dollars, Pounds or Euros and customers may boycott you—or both.

So in an environment in which decisions are increasingly made without human intervention, there is therefore a very strong incentive to know under what circumstances AI systems might adopt an unethical strategy and reduce that risk or eliminate entirely if possible.

Mathematicians and statisticians from University of Warwick, Imperial, EPFL and Sciteb Ltd have come together to help business and regulators creating a new “Unethical Optimization Principle” and provide a simple formula to estimate its impact. They have laid out the full details in a paper bearing the name “An unethical optimization principle“, published in Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday 1st July 2020….(More)”.

Techlash? America’s Growing Concern with Major Technology Companies


Press Release: “Just a few years ago, Americans were overwhelmingly optimistic about the power of new technologies to foster an informed and engaged society. More recently, however, that confidence has been challenged by emerging concerns over the role that internet and technology companies — especially social media — now play in our democracy.

A new Knight Foundation and Gallup study explores how much the landscape has shifted. This wide-ranging study confirms that, for Americans, the techlash is real, widespread, and bipartisan. From concerns about the spread of misinformation to election interference and data privacy, we’ve documented the deep pessimism of folks across the political spectrum who believe tech companies have too much power — and that they do more harm than good. 

Despite their shared misgivings, Americans are deeply divided on how best to address these challenges. This report explores the contours of the techlash in the context of the issues currently animating policy debates in Washington and Silicon Valley. Below are the main findings from the executive summary….

  • 77% of Americans say major internet and technology companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple have too muchpower.
  • Americans are equally divided among those who favor (50%) and oppose (49%) government intervention that would require internet and technology companies to break into smaller companies. 
  • Americans do not trust social media companies much (44%) or at all (40%) to make the right decisions about what content should or should not be allowed on online platforms.
  • However, they would still prefer the companies (55%) to make those decisions rather than the government (44%). …(More)

New privacy-protected Facebook data for independent research on social media’s impact on democracy


Chaya Nayak at Facebook: “In 2018, Facebook began an initiative to support independent academic research on social media’s role in elections and democracy. This first-of-its-kind project seeks to provide researchers access to privacy-preserving data sets in order to support research on these important topics.

Today, we are announcing that we have substantially increased the amount of data we’re providing to 60 academic researchers across 17 labs and 30 universities around the world. This release delivers on the commitment we made in July 2018 to share a data set that enables researchers to study information and misinformation on Facebook, while also ensuring that we protect the privacy of our users.

This new data release supplants data we released in the fall of 2019. That 2019 data set consisted of links that had been shared publicly on Facebook by at least 100 unique Facebook users. It included information about share counts, ratings by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers, and user reporting on spam, hate speech, and false news associated with those links. We have expanded the data set to now include more than 38 million unique links with new aggregated information to help academic researchers analyze how many people saw these links on Facebook and how they interacted with that content – including views, clicks, shares, likes, and other reactions. We’ve also aggregated these shares by age, gender, country, and month. And, we have expanded the time frame covered by the data from January 2017 – February 2019 to January 2017 – August 2019.

With this data, researchers will be able to understand important aspects of how social media shapes our world. They’ll be able to make progress on the research questions they proposed, such as “how to characterize mainstream and non-mainstream online news sources in social media” and “studying polarization, misinformation, and manipulation across multiple platforms and the larger information ecosystem.”

In addition to the data set of URLs, researchers will continue to have access to CrowdTangle and Facebook’s Ad Library API to augment their analyses. Per the original plan for this project, outside of a limited review to ensure that no confidential or user data is inadvertently released, these researchers will be able to publish their findings without approval from Facebook.

We are sharing this data with researchers while continuing to prioritize the privacy of people who use our services. This new data set, like the data we released before it, is protected by a method known as differential privacy. Researchers have access to data tables from which they can learn about aggregated groups, but where they cannot identify any individual user. As Harvard University’s Privacy Tools project puts it:

“The guarantee of a differentially private algorithm is that its behavior hardly changes when a single individual joins or leaves the dataset — anything the algorithm might output on a database containing some individual’s information is almost as likely to have come from a database without that individual’s information. … This gives a formal guarantee that individual-level information about participants in the database is not leaked.” …(More)”

The wisdom of crowds: What smart cities can learn from a dead ox and live fish


Portland State University: “In 1906, Francis Galton was at a country fair where attendees had the opportunity to guess the weight of a dead ox. Galton took the guesses of 787 fair-goers and found that the average guess was only one pound off of the correct weight — even when individual guesses were off base.

This concept, known as “the wisdom of crowds” or “collective intelligence,” has been applied to many situations over the past century, from people estimating the number of jellybeans in a jar to predicting the winners of major sporting events — often with high rates of success. Whatever the problem, the average answer of the crowd seems to be an accurate solution.

But does this also apply to knowledge about systems, such as ecosystems, health care, or cities? Do we always need in-depth scientific inquiries to describe and manage them — or could we leverage crowds?

This question has fascinated Antonie J. Jetter, associate professor of Engineering and Technology Management for many years. Now, there’s an answer. A recent study, which was co-authored by Jetter and published in Nature Sustainability, shows that diverse crowds of local natural resource stakeholders can collectively produce complex environmental models very similar to those of trained experts.

For this study, about 250 anglers, water guards and board members of German fishing clubs were asked to draw connections showing how ecological relationships influence the pike stock from the perspective of the anglers and how factors like nutrients and fishing pressures help determine the number of pike in a freshwater lake ecosystem. The individuals’ drawings — or their so-called mental models — were then mathematically combined into a collective model representing their averaged understanding of the ecosystem and compared with the best scientific knowledge on the same subject.

The result is astonishing. If you combine the ideas from many individual anglers by averaging their mental models, the final outcomes correspond more or less exactly to the scientific knowledge of pike ecology — local knowledge of stakeholders produces results that are in no way inferior to lengthy and expensive scientific studies….(More)”.

Industry and Public Sector Leaders Partner to Launch the Mobility Data Collaborative


Press Release: “The Mobility Data Collaborative (the Collaborative), a multi-sector forum with the goal of creating a framework to improve mobility through data, launches today…

New mobility services, such as shared cars, bikes, and scooters, are emerging and integrating into the urban transportation landscape across the globe. Data generated by these new mobility services offers an exciting opportunity to inform local policies and infrastructure planning. The Collaborative brings together key members from the public and private sectors to develop best practices to harness the potential of this valuable data to support safe, equitable, and livable streets.

The Collaborative will leverage the knowledge of its current and future members to solve the complex challenges facing shared mobility operators and the public agencies who manage access to infrastructure that these new services require. A critical component of this collaboration is providing an open and impartial forum for sharing information and developing best practices. 

Membership is open to public agencies, nonprofits, academic institutions and private companies….(More)”.

Mayor de Blasio Signs Executive Order to Establish Algorithms Management and Policy Officer


Press release: “Mayor Bill de Blasio today signed an Executive Order to establish an Algorithms Management and Policy Officer within the Mayor’s Office of Operations. The Officer will serve as a centralized resource on algorithm policy and develop guidelines and best practices to assist City agencies in their use of algorithms to make decisions. The new Officer will ensure relevant algorithms used by the City to deliver services promote equity, fairness and accountability. The creation of the position follows review of the recommendations from the Automated Decision Systems (ADS) Task Force Report required by Local Law 49 of 2018, published here.

“Fairness and equity are central to improving the lives of New Yorkers,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.“With every new technology comes added responsibility, and I look forward to welcoming an Algorithms Management and Policy Officer to my team to ensure the tools we use to make decisions are fair and transparent.”…

The Algorithms Management and Policy Officer will develop guidelines and best practices to assist City agencies in their use of tools or systems that rely on algorithms and related technologies to support decision-making. As part of that effort, the Officer and their personnel support will develop processes for agency reporting and provide resources that will help the public learn more about how New York City government uses algorithms to make decisions and deliver services….(More)”.

Community Colleges Boost STEM Student Success Through Behavioral Nudging


Press Release: “JFF, a national nonprofit driving transformation in the American workforce and education systems, and Persistence Plus, which pairs behavioral insights with intelligent text messaging to improve student success, today released the findings from an analysis that examined the effects of personalized nudging on nearly 10,000 community college students. The study, conducted over two years at four community colleges, found that behavioral nudging had a significant impact on student persistence rates—with strong improvements among students of color and older adult learners, who are often underrepresented among graduates of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs.

“These results offer powerful evidence on the potential, and imperative, of using technology to support students during the most in-demand, and often most challenging, courses and majors,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of JFF. “With millions of STEM jobs going unfilled, closing the gap in STEM achievement has profound economic—and equity—implications.” 

In a multiyear initiative called “Nudging to STEM Success, which was funded by the Helmsley Charitable Trust, JFF and Persistence Plus selected four colleges to implement the nudging initiative campuswide:Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio; Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio; Stark State College in North Canton, Ohio; and John Tyler Community College in Chester, Virginia.

A randomized control trial in the summer of 2017 showed that the nudges increased first-to-second-year persistence for STEM students by 10 percentage points. The results of that trial will be presented in an upcoming peer-reviewed paper titled “A Summer Nudge Campaign to Motivate Community College STEM Students to Reenroll.” The paper will be published in AERA Open, an open-access journal published by the American Educational Research Association. 

Following the 2017 trial, the four colleges scaled the support to nearly 10,000 students, and over the next two years, JFF and Persistence Plus found that the nudging support had a particularly strong impact on students of color and students over the age of 25—two groups that have historically had lower persistence rates than other students….(More)”.

Scientists use phone movement to predict personality types


RMIT: “Researchers used data from mobile phone accelerometers – the tiny sensors tracking phone movement for step-counting and other apps – to predict people’s personalities.

RMIT University computer scientist Associate Professor Flora Salim said previous studies had predicted personality types using phone call and messaging activity logs, but this study showed adding accelerometer data improved accuracy

“Activity like how quickly or how far we walk, or when we pick up our phones up during the night, often follows patterns and these patterns say a lot about our personality type,” said Salim, a leading expert in human mobility data.

Physical activity is proven to have a strong correlation with human personality. Therefore, researchers analysed physical activity features from different dimensions like dispersion, diversity, and regularity.

Key findings from the study:

  • People with consistent movements on weekday evenings were generally more introverted, while extroverts displayed more random patterns, perhaps meeting up with different people and taking up unplanned options.
  • Agreeable people had more random activity patterns and were busier on weekends and weekday evenings than others.
  • Friendly and compassionate females made more outgoing calls than anyone else.
  • Conscientious, organized people didn’t tend to contact the same person often in a short space of time.
  • Sensitive or neurotic females often checked their phones or moved with their phones regularly well into the night, past midnight. Sensitive or neurotic males did the opposite.
  • More inventive and curious people tended to make and receive fewer phone calls compared to others….(More)”

Open Mobility Foundation


Press Release: “The Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) – a global coalition led by cities committed to using well-designed, open-source technology to evolve how cities manage transportation in the modern era – launched today with the mission to promote safety, equity and quality of life. The announcement comes as a response to the growing number of vehicles and emerging mobility options on city streets. A new city-governed non-profit, the OMF brings together academic, commercial, advocacy and municipal stakeholders to help cities develop and deploy new digital mobility tools, and provide the governance needed to efficiently manage them.

“Cities are always working to harness the power of technology for the public good. The Open Mobility Foundation will help us manage emerging transportation infrastructures, and make mobility more accessible and affordable for people in all of our communities,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also serves as Advisory Council Chair of Accelerator for America, which showcased the MDS platform early on.

The OMF convenes a new kind of public-private forum to seed innovative ideas and govern an evolving software platform. Serving as a forum for discussions about pedestrian safety, privacy, equity, open-source governance and other related topics, the OMF has engaged a broad range of city and municipal organizations, private companies and non-profit groups, and experts and advocates to ensure comprehensive engagement and expertise on vital issues….

The OMF governs a platform called “Mobility Data Specification” (MDS) that the Los Angeles Department of Transportation developed to help manage dockless micro-mobility programs (including shared dockless e-scooters). MDS is comprised of a set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that create standard communications between cities and private companies to improve their operations. The APIs allow cities to collect data that can inform real-time traffic management and public policy decisions to enhance safety, equity and quality of life. More than 50 cities across the United States – and dozens across the globe – already use MDS to manage micro-mobility services.

Making this software open and free offers a safe and efficient environment for stakeholders, including municipalities, companies, experts and the public, to solve problems together. And because private companies scale best when cities can offer a consistent playbook for innovation, the OMF aims to nurture those services that provide the highest benefit to the largest number of people, from sustainability to safety outcomes….(More)”

The European Lead Factory: Collective intelligence and cooperation to improve patients’ lives


Press Release: “While researchers from small and medium-sized companies and academic institutions often have enormous numbers of ideas, they don’t always have enough time or resources to develop them all. As a result, many ideas get left behind because companies and academics typically have to focus on narrow areas of research. This is known as the “Innovation Gap”. ESCulab (European Screening Centre: unique library for attractive biology) aims to turn this problem into an opportunity by creating a comprehensive library of high-quality compounds. This will serve as a basis for testing potential research targets against a wide variety of compounds.

Any researcher from a European academic institution or a small to medium-sized enterprise within the consortium can apply for a screening of their potential drug target. If a submitted target idea is positively assessed by a committee of experts it will be run through a screening process and the submitting party will receive a dossier of up to 50 potentially relevant substances that can serve as starting points for further drug discovery activities.

ESCulab will build Europe’s largest collaborative drug discovery platform and is equipped with a total budget of € 36.5 million: Half is provided by the European Union’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and half comes from in-kind contributions from companies of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries an Associations (EFPIA) and the Medicines for Malaria Venture. It builds on the existing library of the European Lead Factory , which consists of around 200,000 compounds, as well as around 350,000 compounds from EFPIA companies. The European Lead Factory aims to initiate 185 new drug discovery projects through the ESCulab project by screening drug targets against its library.

… The platform has already provided a major boost for drug discovery in Europe and is a strong example of how crowdsourcing, collective intelligence and the cooperation within the IMI framework can create real value for academia, industry, society and patients….(More)”