Friday, February 12, 2016

Quote of the Day

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Auditing Algorithms: Research Methods for Detecting Discrimination on Internet Platforms

We take the perspective that virtually any algorithm may deserve scrutiny. In the popular mind, algorithms like the Google search engine algorithm exist in order to satisfy their users, and so Crandall’s pessimistic perspective that all algorithms are probably rigged might seem counter-intuitive. However, while it is true that a search algorithm that did not satisfy its users would be unlikely to continue operation for very long, it is important to note that most situations in which algorithms are employed permit the algorithms to satisfy multiple goals simultaneously. There are also many ways an algorithm might be “rigged” that are normatively problematic. We argue that public interest scrutiny of algorithms is required that will focus on subtle patterns of problematic behavior and that this may not be discernable directly or via a particular instance.

- Full Paper Here


Quote of the Day

Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.

- Camille Pissarro

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Quote of the Day

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled — whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others — to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.

- Harry Frankfurt

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I Miss Barack Obama

As this primary season has gone along, a strange sensation has come over me: I miss Barack Obama. Now, obviously I disagree with a lot of Obama’s policy decisions. I’ve been disappointed by aspects of his presidency. I hope the next presidency is a philosophic departure.

But over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.

The first and most important of these is basic integrity. The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.

We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude. Hillary Clinton is constantly having to hold these defensive press conferences when she’s trying to explain away some vaguely shady shortcut she’s taken, or decision she has made, but Obama has not had to do that.

He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.

[---]

No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.


- That's from David Brooks

Wolves Howl In Different 'Dialects,' Machine Learning Finds

Differentiating wolf howls with human ears can prove tricky, so researchers have turned to computer algorithms to suss out if different wolf species howl differently. They think that understanding wolf howls could help improve wolf conservation and management programs. In a study published in the journal Behavioural Processes, a group of international researchers describe using machine learning for the first time to analyze 2,000 wolf howls gathered from both wild and domesticated wolves and their subspecies from around the world.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Attempts to defend amusement parks and circuses on the grounds that they 'educate' people about animals should not be taken seriously. Such enterprises are part of the commercial entertainment industry. The most important lesson they teach impressionable young minds is that it is acceptable to keep animals in captivity for human amusement.

Peter Singer

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Ethical Data Scientist

The ethical data scientist would strive to improve the world, not repeat it. That would mean deploying tools to explicitly construct fair processes. As long as our world is not perfect, and as long as data is being collected on that world, we will not be building models that are improvements on our past unless we specifically set out to do so.

At the very least it would require us to build an auditing system for algorithms. This would be not unlike the modern sociological experiment in which job applications sent to various workplaces differ only by the race of the applicant—are black job seekers unfairly turned away? That same kind of experiment can be done directly to algorithms; see the work of Latanya Sweeney, who ran experiments to look into possible racist Google ad results. It can even be done transparently and repeatedly, and in this way the algorithm itself can be tested.

The ethics around algorithms is a topic that lives only partly in a technical realm, of course. A data scientist doesn’t have to be an expert on the social impact of algorithms; instead, she should see herself as a facilitator of ethical conversations and a translator of the resulting ethical decisions into formal code. In other words, she wouldn’t make all the ethical choices herself, but rather raise the questions with a larger and hopefully receptive group.

This issue is on the horizon, if it’s not already here. The more processes we automate, the more obvious it will become that algorithms are not inherently fair and objective, and that they need human intervention. At that point the ethics of building algorithms will be taught alongside statistics and computer programming classes.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Never complain, never explain. Resist the temptation to defend yourself or make excuses.

Brian Tracy