Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Manifesto for Algorithms in the Environment

Historically, sets of principles have proven critical in guiding future development around novel technologies and their social implications. The Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA (1975) and the more recent “Oxford Principles” for risky geo-engineering technologies (2009) show that principles can have a profound social and political impact. Any scholar of environmental law knows of the deep mark the Precautionary Principle and the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility has left on international law. In this spirit, we have formulated a set of 7 principles - “The Biosphere Code.”

A dialogue about possible principles to direct the use of algorithms needs to start now. As part of the ongoing international conference “Transformations 2015” in Stockholm, we gathered a small group of thinkers and doers – scholars, programmers, artists, entrepreneurs, game developers and others – to explore these possible principles for the development of algorithms that helps us protect and strengthen our ecosystems, and improve our creative capacities to sustain human well-being in an uncertain future. They are applicable to programmers, hackers, software companies, computer scientists, artists, designers, policy-makers and others taking active part of the algorithm revolution. The seven principles captured in the Biosphere Code Manifesto v1.0 (full version available here) are:

  • Principle 1. With great algorithmic powers come great responsibilities - Those implementing and using algorithms should consider the impacts of their algorithms.
  • Principle 2. Algorithms should serve humanity and the biosphere at large - Algorithms should be considerate of human needs and the biosphere, and facilitate transformations towards sustainability by supporting ecologically responsible innovation.
  • Principle 3. The benefits and risks of algorithms should be distributed fairly - Algorithm developers should consider issues relating to the distribution of risks and opportunities more seriously. Developing algorithms that provide benefits to the few and present risks to the many are both unjust and unfair.
  • Principle 4. Algorithms should be flexible, adaptive and context-aware - Algorithms should be open, malleable and easy to reprogram if serious repercussions or unexpected results emerge. Algorithms should be aware of their external effects and be able to adapt to unforeseen changes.
  • Principle 5. Algorithms should help us expect the unexpected - Algorithms should be used in such a way that they enhance our shared capacity to deal with shocks and surprises - including problems caused by errors or misbehaviors in other algorithms.
  • Principle 6. Algorithmic data collection should be open and meaningful - Data collection should be transparent and respectful of public privacy. In order to avoid hidden biases, the datasets which feed into algorithms should be validated.
  • Principle 7. Algorithms should be inspiring, playful and beautiful - Algorithms should be used to enhance human creativity and playfulness, and to create new kinds of art. We should encourage algorithms that facilitate human collaboration, interaction and engagement - with each other, with society, and with nature.
- More Here

Quote of the Day

Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.

- Voltaire

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Computer Science as a Natural Science by Leslie Valiant

Quote of the Day

We carry about us the burden of what thousands of people have said and the memories of all our misfortunes. To abandon all that is to be alone, and the mind that is alone is not only innocent but young -- not in time or age, but young, innocent, alive at whatever age -- and only such a mind can see that which is truth and that which is not measurable by words.

- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The importance of human innovation in A.I. ethics

“Begin as you mean to go forward.” Michael Stewart is founder, chairman & CEO of Lucid, an Artificial Intelligence company based in Austin that recently announced the formation of the industry’s first Ethics Advisory Panel (EAP). While Google claimed creation of a similar board when acquiring AI firm DeepMind in January 2014, no public realization of its efforts currently exist (as confirmed by a PR rep from Google for this piece). Lucid’s Panel, by comparison, has already begun functioning as a separate organization from the analytics side of the business and provides oversight for the company and its customers. “Our efforts,” Stewart says, “are guided by the principle that our ethics group is obsessed with making sure the impact of our technology is good.”


“You can sometimes do things that are entirely legal yet highly unethical.” Roland van Rijswijk works at SURFnet, the National Research and Education Network in the Netherlands connecting academia and research institutes throughout the country. He recently worked with van Wynsberghe to create a booklet designed to help staff identify ethical issues concerning how their data would be used by outside researchers. He’s quick to note the booklet (soon to be made public) is not simply a checklist for getting approval but a blueprint for spirited staff discussions designed to form educated decisions. As the booklet points out, “Virtue ethics allows for a discussion beyond hard and fast rules or duties and goes further than a discussion of consequences alone. It demands one to search for inner motivation and commitment, to articulate their intentions behind an action.” Introspection breeds innovation by this articulation of accountability. While some ethical decisions may seem clear cut, values are subjective. It’s in discussing issues openly that communal understanding can enlighten previously unclear paths.

“The more we interact with systems engaging human intentionality, the more we’re going to have to understand ourselves.” Jake Metcalf is a fellow at Data & Society, a research institute in New York City focused on social and ethical issues regarding data-centric technology. He’s also co-founder of the consulting firm, Ethical Resolve and notes that in trying to figure out what ethical decisions a company needs to fulfill their values, they gain more insight into their product and market. The more a company can be self reflective, the more successful they’re going to be.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

This week, when I was @ the Strata conference, the last keynote address was "In praise of boredom" by Maria Konnikova. Taking about boredom in a big data conference was wisdom 101!!

A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men… of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.

- The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell

Quote of the Day

I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.

- Alexis de Tocqueville

Friday, October 2, 2015

Quote of the Day

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.

- Marcus Aurelius