ACM Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence

We promote and support the growth and application of AI principles and techniques throughout computing

AI Matters: our blog

Face Recognition and Bad Science

FR and Bad Science: Should some research not be done?

Facial recognition issues continue to appear in the news, as well as in scholarly journal articles, while FR systems are being banned and some research is shown to be bad science. AI system researchers who try to associate facial technology output with human characteristics are sometimes referred to as machine-assisted phrenologists. Problems with FR research have been demonstrated in machine learning research such as work by Steed and Caliskan in “A set of distinct facial traits learned by machines is not predictive of appearance bias in the wild.”  Meanwhile many examples of harmful products and misuses have been identified in areas such as criminality, video interviewing, and many others. Some communities have considered bans on FR products.

Yet, journals and conferences continue to publish bad science in facial recognition.

Some people say the choice of research topics is up to the researchers – the public can choose not to use the products of their research. However, areas such as genetic, biomedical, and cyber security R&D do have limits. Our professional computing societies can choose to disapprove research areas that cause harm. Sources of mitigating and preventing irresponsible research being introduced into the public space include:
– Peer pressure on academic and corporate research and development
– Public policy through laws and regulations
– Corporate and academic self-interest – organizations’ bottom lines can
suffer from bad publicity
– Vigilance by journals about publishing papers that promulgate the misuse
of FR

A recent article by Matthew Hutson in The New Yorker discusses “Who should stop unethical AI.” He remarks that “Many kinds of researchers—biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and so on—encounter checkpoints at which they are asked about the ethics of their research. This doesn’t happen as much in computer science. Funding agencies might inquire about a project’s potential applications, but not its risks. University research that involves human subjects is typically scrutinized by an I.R.B., but most computer science doesn’t rely on people in the same way. In any case, the Department of Health and Human Services explicitly asks I.R.B.s not to evaluate the “possible long-range effects of applying knowledge gained in the research,” lest approval processes get bogged down in political debate. At journals, peer reviewers are expected to look out for methodological issues, such as plagiarism and conflicts of interest; they haven’t traditionally been called upon to consider how a new invention might rend the social fabric.”

OSTP News

OSTP Launches National AI Initiative Office

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the establishment of the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office.  As outlined in legislation, this Office will serve as the point of contact on Federal AI activities across the interagency, as well as with private sector, academia, and other stakeholders. The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence will oversee the National AI Initiative Office, and Dr. Lynne E. Parker, Deputy United States Chief Technology Officer, will serve as the Founding Director. As explained in Inside Tech Media, the newly enacted National Defense Authorization Act contains important provisions regarding the development and deployment of AI technologies, many of which build upon previous legislation introduced in the 116th Congress, including the establishment of the National AI Initiative Office.

White House Science Team

On January 15, key members of President-Elect Biden’s were announced. The press release says “These diverse, deeply experienced scientists and experts will play a key role in shaping America’s future — and will prepare us to lead the world in the 21st century and beyond.” President-elect Joe Biden said, “Science will always be at the forefront of my administration — and these world-renowned scientists will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth. Their trusted guidance will be essential as we come together to end this pandemic, bring our economy back, and pursue new breakthroughs to improve the quality of life of all Americans.”
He will nominate Dr. Eric Lander (photo) as Director of the OSTP and to serve as the Presidential Science Advisor. “The president-elect is elevating the role of science within the White House, including by designating the Presidential Science Advisor as a member of the Cabinet for the first time in history.”
Other key members are
Alondra Nelson, Ph.D., OSTP Deputy Director for Science and Society (photo)
Frances H. Arnold, Ph.D., Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (photo)
Maria Zuber, Ph.D., Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (photo)
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health (photo)
Kei Koizumi, OSTP Chief of Staff  (photo)
Narda Jones, OSTP Legislative Affairs Director (photo)

Policy-Related Article from AI and Ethics

Stix, C., Maas, M.M. Bridging the gap: the case for an ‘Incompletely Theorized Agreement’ on AI policy. AI Ethics (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-020-00037-w

Big Issues

Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Banks … and Big Tech

A larger discussion is growing out of the recent news about Timnit Gebru and Google. Big Tech is having a huge impact on individuals and society both for the many products and services we enjoy and for the current and potential cases of detrimental effects of unethical behavior or naiveté regarding AI ethics issues. How do we achieve AI ethics responsibility in all organizations, big and small? And, not just in corporations, but governmental and academic research organizations?

Some concerned people focus on regulation, but for a variety of reasons public and community pressure may be quicker and more acceptable. This includes corporations earning reputations for ethical actions in the design and development of AI products and systems. An article in MIT Technology Review by Karen Hao discusses a letter signed by nine members of Congress that “sends an important signal about how regulators will scrutinize tech giants.” Ideally our Public Policy goal is strong AI Ethics national and global communities that self-regulate on AI ethical issues, comparable to other professional disciplines in medical science and cybersecurity. Our AI Ethics community, as guidelines evolve, could provide a supportive and guiding presence in the implementation of ethical norms in the research and development in AI. The idea of a global community is reflected also in a recent speech by European Union President Ursula von der Leyen at the World Leader for Peace and Security Award ceremony. She advocates for transatlantic agreements on AI.

AI Centre of Excellence (AICE)

AICE conducted an inaugural celebration in December, 2020. Director John Kamara founded the AI Centre of Excellence in Kenya and is passionate about creating value and long term impact of AI and ML in Africa. The Centre aims to accomplish this by providing expert training to create skilled and employable AI and ML engineers. The Centre dives into creating sustainable impact through Research and Development. AI research and products are estimated to contribute over $13 trillion to the global economy by 2030. This offers the Centre an opportunity to carry out research in selected sectors and build products based on the research. The world has around 40K AI experts in the world, with nearly half in the US and less than 5% in Africa. Oxford Insights estimates that Kenya ranks first in Africa, and AICE aims to leverage this potential and transform AICE into a full blown Artificial Intelligence Centre of Excellence. Please keep your eyes on Africa and ways our public policy can assist efforts there to grow AI in emerging education and research.

AI Policy Nuggets II

What Can Biden Do for Science?

A Science|Business Webcast presented a forum of public and private sector leaders discussing ideas about the need for the president-elect to convene world leaders to re-establish ‘rules of engagement’ on science.

Brookings Webinar on the Future of AI

“On November 17, 2020, the Brookings Institution Center for Technology Innovation hosted a webinar to discuss the future of AI, how it is being deployed, and the policy and legal issues being raised. Speakers explored ways to mitigate possible concerns and how to move forward safely, securely, and in a manner consistent with human values.”

Section 230 Update

Politico reports that “Trump for months has urged Congress to revoke industry legal shield Section 230, while its staunchest critics largely pushed to revamp it instead. But the president’s more drastic call for a total repeal — echoed by Biden for very different reasons — is gaining traction among Republicans in Washington. The NYT reported Thursday that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has even offered Trump’s support for a must-pass annual defense spending bill if it includes such a repeal.”

The European AI Policy Conference

AI may be the most important digital innovation technology transforming industries around the world.
“Businesses in Europe are at the forefront of some of the latest advancements in the field, and European universities are home to the greatest concentration of AI researchers in the world. Every week, new case studies emerge showing the potential opportunities that can arise from greater use of the technology.” The European AI Policy Conference brings together leading voices in AI from to discuss why European success in AI is important, how the EU compares to other world leaders today, and what steps European policymakers should take to be more competitive in AI. “The European AI Policy Conference is a high-level forum to connect stakeholders working to promote AI in Europe, showcase advances in AI, and promote AI policies supporting its development to EU policymakers and thought leaders.”

Policy Issues from AI and Ethics

The inaugural issue of the new journal AI and Ethics contains several articles relevant to AI and Public Policy.

Jelinek, T., Wallach, W. & Kerimi, D. “Policy brief: the creation of a G20 coordinating committee for the governance of artificial intelligence” AI Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-020-00019-y

This policy brief proposes a group of twenty (G20) coordinating committee for the governance of artificial intelligence (CCGAI) to plan and coordinate on a multilateral level the mitigation of AI risks. The G20 is the appropriate regime complex for such a metagovernance mechanism, given the involvement of the largest economies and their highest political representatives.

Gambelin, O. “Brave: what it means to be an AI Ethicist” AI Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-020-00020-5

This piece offers a preliminary definition of what it means to be an AI Ethicist, first examining the concept of an ethicist in the context of artificial intelligence, followed by exploring what responsibilities are added to the role in industry specifically, and ending on the fundamental characteristic that underlies it all: bravery.

Smith, P., Smith, L. “Artificial intelligence and disability: too much promise, yet too little substance?” AI Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-020-00004-5

Much has been written about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to support, and even transform, the lives of disabled people. Many individuals are benefiting, but what are the true limits of such tools? What are the ethics of allowing AI tools to suggest different courses of action, or aid in decision-making? And does AI offer too much promise for individuals? We draw as to how AI software and technology might best be developed in the future.

Coeckelbergh, M. “AI for climate: freedom, justice, and other ethical and political challenges” AI Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-020-00007-2

Artificial intelligence can and should help to build a greener, more sustainable world and to deal with climate change, but these opportunities also raise ethical and political issues that need to be addressed. This article discusses these issues, with a focus on problems concerning freedom and justice at a global level, and calls for responsible use of AI for climate in the light of these challenges.

Hickok, M. “Lessons learned from AI ethics principles for future actions” AI Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-020-00008-1

The use of AI systems is significantly more prevalent in recent years, and the concerns on how these systems collect, use and process big data has also increased. To address these concerns and advocate for ethical and responsible AI development and implementation, NGOs, research centers, private companies, and governmental agencies have published more than 100 AI ethics principles and guidelines. Lessons must be learned from the shortcomings of AI ethics principles to ensure that future investments, collaborations, standards, codes, and legislation reflect the diversity of voices and incorporate the experiences of those who are already impacted by AI.

Fall Nuggets

USTPC Panel on Section 230

On November 18 from 5:00 to 6:30 PM EST, experts from ACM’s US Technology Policy Committee (USTPC) will discuss the legal liability of Internet platforms such as Facebook and Twitter under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The USTPC panelists are Andy Grosso (Moderator), Mark Rasch, Pam Samuelson, Richard M. Sherman, and Danny Weitzner.

Biden and Science

Participants in a Science and Business Webcast urged that a global assembly “should press leaders of the big industrial nations to open – or re-open – their research systems, while also ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are freely available to everyone in the world. An international summit.” About an international summit, Robert-Jan Smits, former director-general of the European Commission’s research and innovation directorate said it, “would really show that senior leaders are turning the page,”

Center for Data Innovation On the EU Data Governance Act

“The European Commission is planning to release its Data Governance Act to facilitate data sharing within the EU. The goal is to increase data sharing among businesses, make more public-sector data available for reuse, and foster data sharing of personal data, including for ‘altruistic’ purposes. While the goals of the act are commendable, many of the specific policies outlined in a draft would create a new data localization requirement, undermine the EU’s commitments to digital free trade, and contradict its open data principles.”