SJW AI? That’s what a team at Google is working on.
While the AI algorithms did a credible job of predicting income levels and political leanings in a given area, Gebru says her work was susceptible to bias — racial, gender, socio-economic. She was also horrified by a ProPublica report that found a computer program widely used to predict whether a criminal will re-offend discriminated against people of color.
So earlier this year, Gebru, 34, joined a Microsoft team called FATE — for Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics in AI. The program was set up three years ago to ferret out biases that creep into AI data and can skew results.
“I started to realize that I have to start thinking about things like bias,” says Gebru, who co-founded Black in AI, a group set up to encourage people of color to join the artificial intelligence field. “Even my own Ph.D. work suffers from whatever issues you’d have with dataset bias.”
In the popular imagination, the threat from AI tends to the alarmist: self-aware computers turning on their creators and taking over the planet. The reality turns out to be a lot more insidious but no less concerning to the people working in AI labs around the world.
Companies, government agencies and hospitals are increasingly turning to machine learning, image recognition and other AI tools to help predict everything from the credit worthiness of a loan applicant to the preferred treatment for a person suffering from cancer. The tools have big blind spots that particularly affect women and minorities.
“The worry is if we don’t get this right, we could be making wrong decisions that have critical consequences to someone’s life, health or financial stability,” says Jeannette Wing, director of Columbia University’s Data Sciences Institute.
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