Biased AI


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Biased Artificial Intelligence (AI)


Biases find their way into the designed AI systems, and are used to make decisions by many, from governments to businesses. Bad data used to train AI can contain implicit racial, gender, or ideological biases. Bias in AI systems could erode trust between humans and machines that learn.


Untold History of AI: Algorithmic Bias Was Born in the 1980s


The history of AI is often told as the story of machines getting smarter over time. What’s lost is the human element in the narrative, how intelligent machines are designed, trained, and powered by human minds and bodies.

In this six-part series, we explore that human history of AI—how innovators, thinkers, workers, and sometimes hucksters have created algorithms that can replicate human thought and behavior (or at least appear to). While it can be exciting to be swept up by the idea of superintelligent computers that have no need for human input, the true history of smart machines shows that our AI is only as good as we are.


Part 5: Franglen’s Admissions Algorithm


In the 1970s, Dr. Geoffrey Franglen of St. George’s Hospital Medical School in London began writing an algorithm to screen student applications for admission.

At the time, three-quarters of St. George’s 2,500 annual applicants were rejected by the academic assessors based on their written applications alone, and didn’t get to the interview stage. About 70 percent of those who did make it past the initial screening went on to get offered places at the medical school. So that initial “weeding out” round was crucial.

Franglen was the vice-dean of St. George’s and himself an admissions assessor. Reading through the applications was a time-consuming task that he felt could be automated. He studied the processes by which he and his colleagues screened students, then wrote a program that, in his words, “mimic[ked] the behavior of the human assessors.”

While Franglen’s main motivation was to make admissions processes more efficient, he also hoped that it would remove inconsistencies in the way the admissions staff carried out their duties. The idea was that by ceding agency to a technical system, all student applicants would be subject to precisely the same evaluation, thus creating a fairer process.

In fact, it proved to be just the opposite.

Franglen completed the algorithm in 1979. That year, student applicants were double-tested by the computer and human assessors. Franglen found that his system agreed with the gradings of the selection panel 90 to 95 percent of the time. For the medical school’s administrators, this result proved that an algorithm could replace the human selectors. By 1982, all initial applications to St. George’s were being screened by the program.

If their names were non-Caucasian, the selection process was weighted against them. In fact, simply having a non-European name could automatically take 15 points off an applicant’s score.

Within a few years, some staff members had become concerned by the lack of diversity among successful applicants. They conducted an internal review of Franglen’s program and noticed certain rules in the system that weighed applicants on the basis of seemingly non-relevant factors, like place of birth and name. But Franglen assured the committee that these rules were derived from data collected from previous admission trends and would have only marginal impacts on selections.

In December 1986, two senior lecturers at St. George’s caught wind of this internal review and went to the U.K. Commission for Racial Equality. They had reason to believe, they informed the commissioners, that the computer program was being used to covertly discriminate against women and people of color.

The commission launched an inquiry. It found that candidates were classified by the algorithm as “Caucasian” or “non-Caucasian” on the basis of their names and places of birth. If their names were non-Caucasian, the selection process was weighted against them. In fact, simply having a non-European name could automatically take 15 points off an applicant’s score. The commission also found that female applicants were docked three points, on average. As many as 60 applications each year may have been denied interviews on the basis of this scoring system.

At the time, gender and racial discrimination was rampant in British universities—St. George’s was only caught out because it had enshrined its biases in a computer program. Because the algorithm was verifiably designed to give lower scores to women and people with non-European names, the commission had concrete evidence of discrimination.

St. George’s was found guilty by the commission of practicing discrimination in its admissions policy, but escaped without significant consequences. In a mild attempt at reparations, the college tried to contact people who might have been unfairly discriminated against, and three previously rejected applicants were offered places at the school.

The commission noted that the problem at the medical school was not only technical, but also cultural. Many staff members viewed the admissions machine as unquestionable, and therefore didn’t take the time to ask how it distinguished between students.

At a deeper level, the algorithm was sustaining the biases that already existed in the admissions system. After all, Franglen had tested the machine against humans and found a 90 to 95 percent correlation of outcomes. But by codifying the human selectors’ discriminatory practices into a technical system, he was ensuring that these biases would be replayed in perpetuity.

The case of discrimination at St. George’s got a good deal of attention. In the fallout, the commission mandated the inclusion of race and ethnicity information in university admission forms. But that modest step did nothing to stop the insidious spread of algorithmic bias.

Indeed, as algorithmic decision-making systems are increasingly rolled out into high-stakes domains, like health care and criminal justice, the perpetuation and amplification of existing social biases based on historical data has become an enormous concern. In 2016, the investigative journalism outfit ProPublica showed that software used across the United States to predict future criminals was biased against African-Americans. More recently, researcher Joy Buolamwini demonstrated that Amazon’s facial recognition software has a far higher error rate for dark-skinned women.

While machine bias is fast becoming one of the most discussed topics in AI, algorithms are still often perceived as inscrutable and unquestionable objects of mathematics that produce rational, unbiased outcomes. As AI critic Kate Crawford says, it’s time to recognize that algorithms are a “creation of human design” that inherit our biases. The cultural myth of the unquestionable algorithm often works to conceal this fact: Our AI is only as good as we are (Untold History of AI: Algorithmic Bias Was Born in the 1980s - IEEE Spectrum).


Untold History of AI: When Charles Babbage Played Chess With the Original Mechanical Turk - IEEE Spectrum (Part 1)

Untold History of AI: Invisible Women Programmed America's First Electronic Computer - IEEE Spectrum (Part 2)

Untold History of AI: Why Alan Turing Wanted AI Agents to Make Mistakes - IEEE Spectrum (Part 3)

Untold History of AI: The DARPA Dreamer Who Aimed for Cyborg Intelligence - IEEE Spectrum (Part 4)

Untold History of AI: Algorithmic Bias Was Born in the 1980s - IEEE Spectrum (Part 5)

Untold History of AI: How Amazon’s Mechanical Turkers Got Squeezed Inside the Machine - IEEE Spectrum (Part 6)




Ontology - Knowledge Representation


An ontology represents knowledge as a set of concepts within a domain and the relationships between those concepts.

1. the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.
2. a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them.

"what's new about our ontology is that it is created automatically from large datasets"


Knowledge representation


Knowledge representation and knowledge engineering are central to classical AI research. Some "expert systems" attempt to gather together explicit knowledge possessed by experts in some narrow domain. In addition, some projects attempt to gather the "commonsense knowledge" known to the average person into a database containing extensive knowledge about the world. Among the things a comprehensive commonsense knowledge base would contain are: objects, properties, categories and relations between objects; situations, events, states and time; causes and effects; knowledge about knowledge (what we know about what other people know); and many other, less well researched domains.

A representation of "what exists" is an ontology: the set of objects, relations, concepts, and properties formally described so that software agents can interpret them. The semantics of these are captured as description logic concepts, roles, and individuals, and typically implemented as classes, properties, and individuals in the Web Ontology Language.

The most general ontologies are called upper ontologies, which attempt to provide a foundation for all other knowledge by acting as mediators between domain ontologies that cover specific knowledge about a particular knowledge domain (field of interest or area of concern). Such formal knowledge representations can be used in content-based indexing and retrieval, scene interpretation, clinical decision support, knowledge discovery (mining "interesting" and actionable inferences from large databases), and other areas.
Among the most difficult problems in knowledge representation are:

-Default reasoning and the qualification problem
-Breadth of commonsense knowledge
-Subsymbolic form of some commonsense knowledge (Wikipedia).





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TACS is a leading top consultancy in the field of information, communication and energy technologies (ICET).


The heart of our consulting spectrum comprises strategic, organizational, and technology-intensive tasks that arise from the use of new information, communication and energy technologies. 
The major emphasis in our work is found in innovative consulting and implementation solutions which result from the use of modern information, communication and energy technologies.



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