Fairness and Bias

Are we creating AI Monsters?

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As a computer scientist, I don’t take it lightly when I say that computer programs are failing us at an alarming rate. There was that time a Google image search program accidentally thought Black people were gorillas. Or that time Microsoft built an AI chat-bot that became a Hitler fan in less than a day. Also, that time Amazon built a resume ranking program that had no interest in hiring women.

Why does this kind of head-scratching, potentially life-altering, but also seemingly avoidable outcome happen so frequently with computer programs? I think it has something to do with something I…


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In 2016, Amazon released Rekognition (with a ‘k’), its cloud platform for doing face recognition and face classification. Those two things sound similar but they are not and the difference between them matters. Bundling them together has been one contributing factor to the huge amount of confusion regarding face recognition among the general public. Here’s why.

Face recognition (with a ‘c’) is the process of identifying someone with a picture of their face. Face recognition systems attempt to answer one question and one question only: “who is this”. For the techies out there, the term is defined in an international…


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In 2015, Illinois residents sued Facebook, saying that its “Suggested Friend” feature was performing biometric facial recognition without the consent of the Illinois resident being recognized. This is a violation of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act or BIPA. The fine is $5,000 for knowingly violating this provision of the BIPA law, per Illinois resident violated. There are 7 million Illinois residents on Facebook. That adds up to a potential 35 billion dollar fine for Facebook. To put that in context, the highest fine Facebook has paid to date was to the FTC for the Cambridge Analytica debacle. It was 5…

John Howard, Ph.D.

Computer Scientist. Researching AI and AI ethics broadly, facial recognition and privacy specifically. http://jjhoward.org/

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