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digital ethics

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October 16, 2020

Analysis

Data as Property?

On the problems of propertarian and dignitarian approaches to data governance.

Since the proliferation of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, critics of widely used internet communications services have warned of the misuse of personal data. Alongside familiar concerns regarding user privacy and state surveillance, a now-decades-long thread connects a…

July 27, 2020

Analysis

Essential Infrastructures

The case for sovereign investment in telecommunications infrastructure

How should the fabric of social life, especially as it is rewoven by the pandemic, relate to the private ownership of telecommunications?

May 4, 2020

Sources

Following the comparative success of South Korea and Singapore to flatten the Covid-19 curve, governments around the world have been discussing the merits and feasibility of tech-aided contact tracing systems. (Whether these comparative public health successes are actually attributable to…

January 30, 2020

Analysis

The Long History of Algorithmic Fairness

Fair algorithms from the seventeenth century to the present

As national and regional governments form expert commissions to regulate “automated decision-making,” a new corporate-sponsored field of research proposes to formalize the elusive ideal of “fairness” as a mathematical property of algorithms and especially of their outputs.

January 29, 2020

Interviews

Historicizing the Self-Evident

An interview with Lorraine Daston

Lorraine Daston has published widely in the history of science, including on probability and statistics, scientific objectivity and observation, game theory, monsters, and much else. Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science since 1995 (emeritus as…

October 17, 2019

Analysis

Disparate Causes, pt. II

On the hunt for the correct counterfactual

An accurate understanding of the nature of race in our society is a prerequisite for an adequate normative theory of discrimination.

October 11, 2019

Analysis

Disparate Causes, pt. I

The shortcomings of causal and counterfactual thinking about racial discrimination

Legal claims of disparate impact discrimination go something like this: A company uses some system (e.g., hiring test, performance review, risk assessment tool) in a way that impacts people. Somebody sues, arguing that it has a disproportionate adverse effect on…

September 26, 2019

Interviews

Optimizing the Crisis

An interview with Seda Gürses and Bekah Overdorf

Software that structures increasingly detailed aspects of contemporary life is built for optimization. These programs require a mapping of the world in a way that is computationally legible, and translating the messy world into one that makes sense to a…

August 23, 2019

Analysis

Statistical prediction is increasingly pervasive in our lives. Can it be fair? The Allegheny Family Screening Tool is a computer program that predicts whether a child will later have to be placed into foster care. It's been used in Allegheny…

August 5, 2019

Sources

Technology companies are coming under increased scrutiny for the ethical consequences of their work, and some have formed advisory boards or hired ethicists on staff. (Google's AI ethics board quickly disintegrated.) Another approach is to train computer scientists in ethics…

August 1, 2019

Analysis

Decentralize What?

Can you fix political problems with new web infrastructures?

The internet's early proliferation was steeped in cyber-utopian ideals. The circumvention of censorship and gatekeeping, digital public squares, direct democracy, revitalized civic engagement, the “global village”—these were all anticipated characteristics of the internet age, premised on the notion that digital…

July 3, 2019

Analysis

The Politics of Machine Learning, pt. II

The uses of algorithms discussed in the first part of this article vary widely: from hiring decisions to bail assignment, to political campaigns and military intelligence.

Across all these applications of machine learning methods, there is a common thread: Data on individuals is used to treat different individuals differently. In the past, broadly speaking, such commercial and government activities used to target everyone in a given…

June 27, 2019

Analysis

The Politics of Machine Learning, pt. I

On prediction, profits, votes, and militarism.

Terminology like "machine learning," "artificial intelligence," "deep learning," and "neural nets" is pervasive: business, universities, intelligence agencies, and political parties are all anxious to maintain an edge over the use of these technologies.

May 31, 2019

Analysis

Copyright Humanism

It's by now common wisdom that American copyright law is burdensome, excessive, and failing to promote the ideals that protection ought to.

It's by now common wisdom that American copyright law is burdensome, excessive, and failing to promote the ideals that protection ought to. Too many things, critics argue, are subject to copyright protections, and the result is an inefficient legal morass…

March 9, 2019

Sources

In the digital ethics literature, there's a consistent back-and-forth between attempts at designing algorithmic tools that promote fair outcomes in decision-making processes, and critiques that enumerate the limits of such attempts. A December paper by ANDREW SELBST, dana boyd, SORELLE…

February 2, 2019

Sources

In the ever expanding digital ethics literature, a number of researchers have been advocating a turn away from enticing technical questions—how to mathematically define fairness, for example—and towards a more expansive, foundational approach to the ethics of designing digital decision…

January 12, 2019

Sources

In a report for the Berkman Klein center, Henry Farrell and Bruce Schneier identify a gap in current approaches to cybersecurity. National cybersecurity officials still base their thinking on Cold War-type threats, where technologists focus on hackers. Combining both approaches,…

December 15, 2018

Sources

SCIENTIFIC RETURNS A new book examines the economic and social impacts of R&D Last May, we highlighted a report on workforce training and technological competitiveness which outlined trends in research and development investment. The report found that despite "total U.S.…

November 10, 2018

Sources

NEW UBI REPORTS | ELECTORAL VIOLENCE | BEYOND GDP DISCRETION DIFFERENTIAL On the varying modes of conceiving of privacy (and its violation) in the law In a 2004 YALE LAW JOURNAL article, comparative legal scholar JAMES Q. WHITMAN explores differing…

October 27, 2018

Sources

EFFICIENT DISPERSION Applying quantitative methods to examine the spread of ideology in judicial opinion In a recent paper, co-authors ELLIOTT ASH, DANIEL L. CHEN, and SURESH NAIDU provide a quantitative analysis of the judicial effects of the law and economics…

October 20, 2018

Sources

WHAT IS A FAMILY? Competing definitons of the term have vast policy implications The formal definition of family is “blood, marriage, or adoption,” but that leaves out many possible arrangements, including families of unmarried people, foster children, co-ops, and, until…

October 18, 2018

Analysis

Machine Ethics, Part One: An Introduction and a Case Study

Artificial intelligence, ethics, and public health social work

The past few years have made abundantly clear that the artificially intelligent systems that organizations increasingly rely on to make important decisions can exhibit morally problematic behavior if not properly designed.

September 22, 2018

Sources

MATERIAL UNDERSTANDING The full resource stack needed for Amazon's Echo to "turn on the lights" In a novel new project, KATE CRAWFORD and VLADAN JOLER present an "anatomical case study" of the human labor, data, and planetary resources necessary for…

July 21, 2018

Sources

ALTERNATIVE ACTUARY History of risk assessment, and some proposed alternate methods  A 2002 paper by ERIC SILVER and LISA L. MILLER on actuarial risk assessment tools provides a history of statistical prediction in the criminal justice context, and issues cautions…

July 14, 2018

Sources

DATA IS NONRIVAL Considerations on data sharing and data markets  CHARLES I. JONES and CHRISTOPHER TONETTI contribute to the “new but rapidly-growing field” known as the economics of data: “We are particularly interested in how different property rights for data…

July 7, 2018

Sources

EVIDENCE PUZZLES The history and politics of RCTs  ⤷ Guaranteed Income In a 2016 working paper, JUDITH GUERON recounts and evaluates the history of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in the US, through her own experience in the development of welfare experiments…

June 23, 2018

Sources

VISIBLE CONSTRAINT Including protected variables can make algorithmic decision-making more fair  ⤷ Digital Ethics A recent paper co-authored by JON KLEINBERG, JENS LUDWIG, SENDHIL MULLAINATHAN, and ASHESH RAMBACHAN addresses algorithmic bias, countering the "large literature that tries to 'blind' the algorithm…

June 16, 2018

Sources

ROLL CALL  A new report from Fordham CLIP sheds light on the market for student list data from higher education institutions From the paper authored by N. CAMERON RUSSELL, JOEL R. REIDENBERG, ELIZABETH MARTIN, and THOMAS NORTON of the FORDHAM…

June 9, 2018

Sources

Ego

PAVEMENT, NURSING, MISSILES Algorithm Tips, a compilation of "potentially newsworthy algorithms" for journalists and researchers DANIEL TRIELLI, JENNIFER STARK, and NICK DIAKOPOLOUS and Northwestern’s Computational Journalism Lab created this searchable, non-comprehensive list of algorithms in use at the federal, state,…

May 19, 2018

Sources

EACH POINT ON THE CHAIN Arguments for Value-Added Tax in the US, and using VAT to fund basic income VAT The Wall Street Journal lays out the basics popup: yes: “Unlike a traditional sales tax, a VAT is a levy…

April 21, 2018

Sources

NON-ZERO PRICE "Digital goods have created large gains in well-being that are missed by conventional measures of GDP and productivity" A new paper by ERIK BRYNJOLFSSON et al. suggests using massive online choice experiments as a method to find the…

April 14, 2018

Sources

METARESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT Changes in R & D funding and allocation In a new report on workforce training and technological competitiveness, a task force led by former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker describes recent trends in research and development investment. Despite…

April 7, 2018

Sources

TARGET VARIABLE Big data's effect on the credit-scoring industry A lengthy 2016 article from the Yale Journal of Law and Technology delves into credit-scoring then suggests a new legislative framework. Since 2008, lenders have only intensified their use of big-data…

March 31, 2018

Sources

URBAN WEALTH FUNDS | OWNERSHIP OF SOVEREIGN WEALTH | FILTER BUBBLE EFFECTS URBAN WEALTH FUNDS Social wealth funds on the municipal level Matt Bruenig, Roger Farmer and Miles Kimball, and Sam Altman have all pushed for versions of a US…

March 24, 2018

Sources

FAIRNESS IN MACHINE LEARNING | METARESEARCH | MICROSTRUCTURE OF VIOLENCE DISTINCT FUSION Tracking the convergence of terms across disciplines In a new paper, CHRISTIAN VINCENOT looks at the process by which two synonymous concepts developed independently in separate disciplines, and…

March 10, 2018

Sources

CRIMINALIZATION OF DEBT | INTERNET CENSORSHIP | EQUALITY BRUTAL ATTACHMENTS A new report on the criminalization of debt Last week, the ACLU published a report entitled "A Pound of Flesh: The Criminalization of Private Debt." It details the widespread use…

March 3, 2018

Sources

IVORY MECHANICS Regional parochialism and the production of knowledge in universities "Scholarly understanding of how universities transform money and intellect into knowledge remains limited. At present we have only rudimentary measures of knowledge production's inputs: tuition and fees, government subsidies,…

February 17, 2018

Sources

BASIC OPPORTUNITY Considerations on funding UBI in Britain The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) published a discussion paper on UBI. ANTHONY PAINTER outlines some key points here, including some thoughts on funding: “To fund…

January 20, 2018

Sources

PERVERSE CONSEQUENCES Does banning the box increase hiring discrimination? “Our results support the concern that BTB [Ban the Box] policies encourage racial discrimination: the black-white gap in callbacks grew dramatically at companies that removed the box after the policy went…

January 13, 2018

Sources

THE WAGE EFFECT Higher minimum wages and the EITC may reduce recidivism “Using administrative prison release records from nearly six million offenders released between 2000 and 2014, we use a difference-in-differences strategy to identify the effect of over two hundred…

December 23, 2017

Sources

INCOME SHARE AGREEMENTS Purdue, BFF, the national conversation “Long discussed in college policy and financing circles, income share agreements, or ISAs, are poised to become more mainstream.” That’s from a September Wall Street Journal article. 2017 saw new pilots and…

December 16, 2017

Sources

HOW TO HANDLE BAD CONTENT Two articles illustrate the state of thought on moderating user-generated content Ben Thompson of Stratechery rounds up recent news on content moderation on Twitter/Facebook/Youtube and makes a recommendation: “Taking political sides always sounds good to…

December 9, 2017

Sources

THE FUTURE OF UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION A new report argues that quality, not access, is the pivotal challenge for colleges and universities From the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 112-page report with "practical and actionable recommendations to improve the…

December 2, 2017

Sources

ARTIFICIAL AGENCY AND EXPLANATION The gray box of XAI A recent longform piece in the New York Times identifies the problem of explaining artificial intelligence. The stakes are high because of the European Union’s controversial and unclear “right-to-explanation” law, which…

November 18, 2017

Sources

PREDICTIVE JUSTICE How to build justice into algorithmic actuarial tools Key notions of fairness contradict each other—something of an Arrow’s Theorem for criminal justice applications of machine learning. "Recent discussion in the public sphere about algorithmic classification has involved tension…

November 4, 2017

Sources

FEED FEEDBACK Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci engages with Adam Mosseri, who runs the Facebook News Feed Tufekci: “…Facebook does not ask people what they want, in the moment or any other way. It sets up structures, incentives, metrics & runs with…