Keeping artificial intelligence accountable to humans

Osonde Osoba

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Osonde Osoba is an engineer at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a member of the faculty of the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

As a teenager in Nigeria, I tried to build an artificial intelligence system. I was inspired by the same dream that motivated the pioneers in the field: That we could create an intelligence of pure logic and objectivity that would free humanity from human error and human foibles.
I was working with weak computer systems and intermittent electricity, and needless to say my AI project failed. Eighteen years later—as an engineer researching artificial intelligence, privacy and machine-learning algorithms—I’m seeing that so far, the premise that AI can free us from subjectivity or bias is also disappointing. We are creating intelligence in our own image. And that’s not a compliment.
Researchers have known for awhile that purportedly neutral algorithms can mirror or even accentuate racial, gender and other biases lurking in the data they are fed. Internet searches on names that are more often identified as belonging to black people were found to prompt search engines to generate ads for bailbondsmen. Algorithms used for job-searching were more likely to suggest higher-paying jobs to male searchers than female. Algorithms used in criminal justice also displayed bias.
Five years later, expunging algorithmic bias is turning out to be a tough problem. It takes careful work to comb through millions of sub-decisions to figure out why the algorithm reached the conclusion it did. And even when that is possible, it is not always clear which sub-decisions are the culprits.
Yet applications of these powerful technologies are advancing faster than the flaws can be addressed.
Recent research underscores this machine bias, showing that commercial facial-recognition systems excel at identifying light-skinned males, with an error rate of less than 1 percent. But if you’re a dark-skinned female, the chance you’ll be misidentified rises to almost 35 percent.
AI systems are often only as intelligent—and as fair—as the data used to train them. They use the patterns in the data they have been fed and apply them consistently to make future decisions. Consider an AI tasked with sorting the best nurses for a hospital to hire. If the AI has been fed historical data—profiles of excellent nurses who have mostly been female—it will tend to judge female candidates to be better fits. Algorithms need to be carefully designed to account for historical biases.

Occasionally, AI systems get food poisoning. The most famous case was Watson, the AI that first defeated humans in 2011 on the television game show “Jeopardy.” Watson’s masters at IBM needed to teach it language, including American slang, so they fed it the contents of the online Urban Dictionary. But after ingesting that colorful linguistic meal, Watson developed a swearing habit. It began to punctuate its responses with four-letter words.
We have to be careful what we feed our algorithms. Belatedly, companies now understand that they can’t train facial-recognition technology by mainly using photos of white men. But better training data alone won’t solve the underlying problem of making algorithms achieve fairness.
Algorithms can already tell you what you might want to read, who you might want to date and where you might find work. When they are able to advise on who gets hired, who receives a loan, or the length of a prison sentence, AI will have to be made more transparent—and more accountable and respectful of society’s values and norms.
Accountability begins with human oversight when AI is making sensitive decisions. In an unusual move, Microsoft president Brad Smith recently called for the U.S. government to consider requiring human oversight of facial-recognition technologies.
The next step is to disclose when humans are subject to decisions made by AI. Top-down government regulation may not be a feasible or desirable fix for algorithmic bias. But processes can be created that would allow people to appeal machine-made decisions—by appealing to humans. The EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation establishes the right for individuals to know and challenge automated decisions.
Today people who have been misidentified—whether in an airport or an employment data base—have no recourse. They might have been knowingly photographed for a driver’s license, or covertly filmed by a surveillance camera (which has a higher error rate.) They cannot know where their image is stored, whether it has been sold or who can access it. They have no way of knowing whether they have been harmed by erroneous data or unfair decisions.
Minorities are already disadvantaged by such immature technologies, and the burden they bear for the improved security of society at large is both inequitable and uncompensated. Engineers alone will not be able to address this. An AI system is like a very smart child just beginning to understand the complexities of discrimination.
To realize the dream I had as a teenager, of an AI that can free humans from bias instead of reinforcing bias, will require a range of experts and regulators to think more deeply not only about what AI can do, but what it should do—and then teach it how. 

Keeping artificial intelligence accountable to humans

Minecraft: Education Edition is coming to iPad

Microsoft announced this morning it’s bringing Minecraft: Education Edition to the iPad for the first time. The game, which first launched to the public in late 2016, has been previously available in schools on Windows 10 devices and on macOS. The iPad software will roll out to schools starting in September, the company says.
If the school is licensed through Microsoft 365 for Education (A3 or A5), teachers will already have access to Minecraft: Education Edition and may be able to download it onto iPads when it launches. However, the school administrator will need to assign the available licenses to the teachers who want to use it, in that case.
For schools without a license, there are volume licensing agreements available through the Microsoft Store for Education and other resellers. Schools pay for the software on an annual subscription basis, but are able to try it out for free for up to 25 teacher logins, and 10 student logins.
Designed for use in the classroom, Minecraft: Education Edition offers teachers a number of resources that help them to incorporate the software into their curriculum. These include lesson plans and courses, plus access to an online community, mentorship, and technical support. The resources are available through the Minecraft: Education Edition website, as before.

The iPad version of the app will include the “Update Aquatic,” which allows school children to create stories, experiment with chemistry, and document their learning via the camera and portfolio features. Other lessons in Minecraft: Education Edition can teach subjects like STEM, history, language, art, and more.
When Microsoft bought the game company, it was already being used in over 7,000 classrooms across 40 countries worldwide, even without Minecraft’s official involvement. Today, Microsoft says the software has been licensed by 35 million teachers and students across 115 countries.
“Minecraft: Education Edition on iPad unlocks new and intuitive ways of collaborating and sharing and has revolutionized the way our students and teachers explore curriculum and projects,” explained Kyriakos Koursaris, Head of Education Technology for PaRK International School, in a statement about the launch. “The features allow for deep and meaningful learning, and the values it promotes, from inclusivity to 21 century skills, empower everyone to use technology with extraordinary results,” Koursaris said.
In addition to the iPad launch, Microsoft said it’s bringing one of Minecraft: Education Edition’s resource packs to the consumer version for Windows 10 and Xbox.

These players can now use the Chemistry Resource Pack that will introduce elements and items that are craftable using chemistry features. With this installed, players create elements and combine them into compounds, build a periodic table and combine materials using chemistry to create new items like helium balloons, sparklers, latex, and underwater torches, Microsoft says.
To use this, parents will need to go to the “Create New World” option in the game, and toggle on “Education” under the “Cheats” menu.

Minecraft: Education Edition is coming to iPad

Walmart completes its $16 billion acquisition of Flipkart

Walmart announced over the weekend that it has completed a $16 billion investment in Flipkart that sees it become the majority owner of the Indian e-commerce company.
The deal was first revealed back in May and now it has closed after receiving the necessary approvals. It sees Walmart take a 77 percent share in the company, buying out a number of prior investors in the process and expanding its rivalry with Amazon to a new horizon. The investment capital also includes $2 billion in new equity funding which will be used for growth while the transaction was structured so that Flipkart itself can still go public. That latter point could mean that the Indian firm must go public within four years, as TechCrunch previously reported.
Flipkart will continue to be run by its leadership with Tencent and Tiger Global retaining board seats. Those two have remained investors in the business, alongside others that include Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal and Microsoft. Walmart previously suggested that other allies would come aboard as investors. Google was strongly mooted, but so far there have been no strategic additions.
Walmart said that its plans for India will include investments that “support national initiatives and will bring sustainable benefits in jobs creation, supporting small businesses, supporting farmers and supply chain development and reducing food waste.”
As we previously reported, it also plans to use Flipkart as a “key center of learning” for the rest of its business across the world, and that includes its home market.
“Not only is [Flipkart] innovative [with the] problem-solving culture that they have, but they are doing some great work both in the AI space, how they are using data across their platforms but particularly in terms of the payment platform that they’ve created through PhonePe. All of those things we can learn from for the future and see how we can leverage those around the international markets and potentially into the US as well,” Walmart COO Judith McKenna said back in May when the deal was announced.
Flipkart’s business could also get a whole lot more transparent since its quarterly results will be reported as part of Walmart’s earnings. Although they will be part of its international business so that might provide some protection from direct scrutiny.

Walmart completes its $16 billion acquisition of Flipkart

Forza Horizon 2 to be delisted from Xbox Store next month

Say goodbye to Forza Horizon 2.

Forza Horizon 2 is an open-world racing game for Xbox One and Xbox 360 which takes you all over Italy. The title launched in 2014 and garnered great reviews. However, as is often the case with racing games, music licenses expire and it’s easier to stop selling them than go through the renewal process. At the end of next month, Forza Horizon 2 will be removed from the Xbox Store. If you already own the game, you can still download it even after it’s delisted. New customers just won’t be able to purchase a digital copy. There are plenty of discs lying around at retailers like Amazon and GameStop.

We Happy Few guide: How to survive in the early game

We Happy Few is tough early on, but these tips will help your chances of survival considerably.

We Happy Few’s twisted world is dangerous, especially during the first few hours of gameplay. Since you start with no items, things are pretty difficult. However, there are ways you can make it through the early game if you keep your eyes peeled and use your wits. Here are five tips to help you survive.

The ASUS VivoBook S510 is a great mid-range laptop, with a weak battery

A mid-range laptop that oozes style and performance, but needs more from its battery.

ASUS’ last VivoBook S was a premium looking mid-range laptop that was ultimately let down in a big way by a disappointing display. The latest attempt, the S510 follows a similar path to its predecessor, by squeezing a ton of power into an affordable package.

It’s not perfect, but it’s still a strong laptop for under $900.

Learn the ins and outs of Excel for $49

Microsoft Excel is one of the most widely used programs in business. It helps companies take care of their books, pay employees, build plans, and much, much more. You can probably get the very basics of Excel, but if you’re looking into a job where proficiency is a big asset and/or required, chances are you’ll need a little more help.

There are many courses that teach you how to use Excel — you can likely take many at local schools and colleges — but these courses can be quite costly, and then there’s the fact that you have to leave home and learn on someone else’s time.

Cover your home in smart devices with three Echo Dots for just $25 apiece

The ultimate smart home.

If you add three Echo Dot smart devices to your cart and use the code DOT3PACK during checkout, the price will drop from $119.97 down to $74.97. That’s $45 off the price and brings the Echo Dots down to about $25 apiece. The Echo Dot is $40 on its own, and that’s only because there’s a sale dropping it from $50. It’s even bigger savings if you consider that $120 price is usually $150.

With three Echo Dots, you can group them altogether and add each one to a different part of your house. That way you’ll always have Alexa within earshot when you need to ask her about the weather or turn on a light or play some music. This sale is part of a larger sale on Amazon hardware and includes several other devices as much as $100 off. Add to your smart home with those as well.

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What you missed this week on

Choice. It’s all about choice.

More streaming options are always a good thing. Because the whole point of this is to trade in our old cable companies for something with better choices, better flexibility — and, hopefully, lower prices.

That’s why HDHomerun expanding with its own streaming lineup is a big deal. That’s why another $35 option is a big deal. (And, by the way, it’s one of the few services that offers The Weather Channel.)

We now have plans ranging from Philo’s $16 a month (or $20, if you want to splurge) to PlayStation Vue’s whopping $80 a month all-inclusive monster. (OK, mostly all-inclusive. There are still add-ons.) And we have plans in between.

The point is, This is about building the best system that works for you. Spend as much or as little as you want. Spend a little extra, maybe, to make it all work a little more the way you want it. Use the free trials and try all the things.

Or, hell, keep your cable subscription. If that gets you more for your money, keep it!

Here’s what else you missed this week:

Halo timeline: Sesa 'Refumee learns the truth about the Halo Arrays

After the destruction of Alpha Halo, 343 Guilty Spark traveled to the nearby Forerunner gas mine on the planet Threshold. There, he met Sesa ‘Refumee, a Sangheili sent to secure the facility.

In the last article, we saw how the Master Chief and his allies successfully managed to destroy Alpha Halo before it could be used to cleanse the galaxy of life.

Halo timeline part one: Precursors, Forerunner betrayal, and the era that followed
Halo timeline part two: Forerunner-Flood War and the firing of the Halo arrays
Halo timeline part three: War of Beginnings and formation of the Covenant
Halo timeline part four: Growth and expansion of the Covenant empire
Halo timeline part five: Rise of humanity and the Spartan program
Halo timeline part six: Beginning of the Human-Covenant War
Halo timeline part seven: The Battle of the Etran Harborage
Halo timeline part eight: The Fall of Reach and the Pillar of Autumn’s escape
Halo timeline part nine: Discovery of Alpha Halo and its destruction
In this one, we’ll go over a major event that precedes Halo 2: the discussion between the Sangheili Sesa ‘Refumee and 343 Guilty Spark.