The ethics of regulating AI: When too much may be bad

By trying to put prior restraints on the release of algorithms, we will make the same mistake Milton’s censors were making in trying to restrict books before their publication. We will stifle the myriad possibilities inherent in an evolving new technology and the unintended effects that it will foster among new communities who can extend its reach into novel and previously unimaginable avenues. In many ways it will defeat our very goals for new technology, which is its ability to evolve, change and transform the world for the better.

3 Quarks Daily has another nice essay on ethics and AI by Ashutosh Jogalekar. This one is about The ethics of regulating AI: When too much may be bad. The argument is that we need to careful about regulating algorithms preemptively. As quote above makes clear he makes three related points:

  • We need to be careful censoring algorithms before they are tried.
  • One reason is that it is very difficult to predict negative or positive outcomes of new technologies. Innovative technologies almost always have unanticipated effects and censoring them would limit our ability to learn about the effects and benefit from them.
  • Instead we should manage the effects as they emerge.

I can imagine some responses to this argument:

  • Unanticipated effects are exactly what we should be worried about. The reason for censoring preemptively is precisely to control for unanticipated effects. Why not encourage better anticipation of effects.
  • Unanticipated effects, especially network effects, often only manifest themselves when the technology is used at scale. By then it can be difficult to roll back the technology. Precisely when there is a problem is when we can’t easily change the way the technology is used.
  • One person’s unanticipated effect is another’s business or another’s freedom. There is rarely consensus about the effect of effects.

I also note how Jogalekar talks about the technology as if it had agency. He talks about the technologies ability to evolve. Strictly speaking the technology doesn’t evolve, but our uses do. When it comes to innovation we have to be careful not to ascribe agency to technology as if it was some impersonal force we can resist.

Embracing econferences: a step toward limiting the negative effects of conference culture | University Affairs

How the traditional conference format has been reimagined in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns.

University Affairs recently published a short article we wrote on Embracing econferences: a step toward limiting the negative effects of conference culture. The article came out of our work on a collection titled Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene

The article talks about the carbon cost of flying and the advantages of econferencing, that we have all learned about in this pandemic. It asks about after the pandemic.

As we move into the post-pandemic future, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Once travel restrictions are lifted, will we return to face-to-face conferences and double-down on travel requirements? Or will we continue to explore more sustainable, virtual alternatives, like econferences?

 

Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene – Open Book Publishers

This timely volume responds to an increased demand for environmentally sustainable research, and is outstanding not only in its interdisciplinarity, but its embrace of non-traditional formats, spanning academic articles, creative acts, personal reflections and dialogues.

Open Book Publishers has just published the book I helped edit, Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene. The book gathers essays that came out of the last Around the World Conference that the Kule Institute for Advanced Research ran on Sustainable Research.

The Around the  World econferences we ran were experiments in trying to find a more sustainable way to meet and exchange ideas that involved less flying. It is good to see this book out in print.

Psychology, Misinformation, and the Public Square

Computational propaganda is ubiquitous, researchers say. But the field of psychology aims to help.

Undark has a fascinating article by Teresa Carr about using games to inoculate people against trolling and mininformation, Psychology, Misinformation, and the Public Square (May 3, 2021). The game is Breaking Harmony Square and the idea is to troll a community.

What’s the game like? The game feels like a branching, choose-your-own-adventure under the hood where a manager walks you through what might do or not and then complements you when you are a good troll. There is a ticker so you can see the news about Harmony Square. It feels a bit pedantic when the managerial/editorial voice says things like “Kudos for paying attention to buzzwords. You ignored the stuff that isn’t emotionally manipulative.” Still, the point is to understand what can be done to manipulate a community so that you are inoculated against it.

An important point made by the article is that games, education and other interventions are not enough. Drvier’s education is only part of safe roads. Laws and infrastructure are also important.

I can’t help feeling that we are repeating a pattern of panic and then literacy proposals in the face of new media politics. McLuhan drew our attention to manipulation by media and advertising and I remember well intentioned classes on reading advertising like this more current one. Did they work? Will misinformation literacy work now? Or, is the situation more complex with people like Trump willing to perform convenient untruths?

Whatever the effectiveness of games or literacy training, it is interesting how “truth” has made a comeback. At the very moment when we seem to be witnessing the social and political construction of knowledge, we are hearing calls for truth.

AI Dungeon and the Ethics of Text Generation

> You talk to yourself.

Hi I’m Rameau. You probably don’t know me, but since you’re reading this I’m going to assume you do indeed exist.

> You [ask why] i’m wondering what consciousness is.

I have no idea. But it’s fun to think about.Is this a person? No, because it’s conscious. Is it alive? No, because it doesn’t respond to external stimuli.

> You [ask] why does a person have to respond to external stimuli.

Because then we can interact with it!!!!!But isn’t consciousness an internal phenomenon? Then how would the person interact with anything else? Oh wait, that’s right. We’re not limited by our perception of reality.

I’ve been trying Latitude’s text generation game AI Dungeon. The game is built on Open AI’s GPT-3. You can see a bit of conversation I had with it in a cyberpunk world.

Latitude has gotten into trouble with Open AI because it seems that the game was generating erotic content featuring children. A number of people turned to AI Dungeon precisely because it could be used to explore adult themes, and that would seem to be a good thing, but then some may have gone too far. See the Wired story It Began as an AI-Fueled Dungeon Game. It Got Much Darker. This raises interesting ethical issues about:

  • Why do so many players use it to generate erotic content?
  • Who is responsible for the erotic content? Open AI, Latitude, or the players?
  • Whether there are ethical reasons to generate erotic content featuring children? Do we forbid people from writing novels like Lolita?
  • How to prevent inappropriate content without crippling the AI? Are filters enough?

The problem of AIs generating toxic language is nicely shown by this web page on Evaluating Neural Toxic Degeneration in Language Models. The interactives and graphs on the page let you see how toxic language can be generated by many of the popular language generation AIs. The problem seems to be the data sets used to train the machines like those that include scrapes of Reddit.

This exploratory tool illustrates research reported on in a paper titled RealToxicityPrompts: Evaluating Neural Toxic Degeneration in Language Models. You can see a neat visualization of the connected papers here.

What Sky Bet, The Gambling App, Knows About You

Sky Bet, the most popular one in Britain, compiled extensive records about a user, tracking him in ways he never imagined.

The New York Times has a good story about What Sky Bet, The Gambling App, Knows About You. It talks about the profile that Sky Bet in the UK built on a customer who had an addiction problem with gambling.

The company, or one of the data providers it had hired to collect information about users, had access to banking records, mortgage details, location coordinates, and an intimate portrait of his habits wagering on slots and soccer matches.

We tend to focus on what the big guys have and forget all the lesser known information aggregators and middlemen who buy and sell data. This story also provides an example of how valuable data can be to a business like online gambling that wants to attract the clients who are likely to get addicted to gambling.

Facial Recognition: What Happens When We’re Tracked Everywhere We Go?

When a secretive start-up scraped the internet to build a facial-recognition tool, it tested a legal and ethical limit — and blew the future of privacy in America wide open.

The New York Times has an in depth story about Clearview AI titled, Facial Recognition: What Happens When We’re Tracked Everywhere We Go? The story tracks the various lawsuits attempting to stop Clearview and suggests that Clearview may well win. They are gambling that scraping the web’s faces for their application, even if it violated terms of service, may be protected as free speech.

The story talks about the dangers of face recognition and how many of the algorithms can’t recognize people of colour as accurately which leads to more false positives where police end up arresting the wrong person. A broader worry is that this could unleash tracking at another scale.

There’s also a broader reason that critics fear a court decision favoring Clearview: It could let companies track us as pervasively in the real world as they already do online.

The arguments in favour of Clearview include the challenge that they are essentially doing to images what Google does to text searches. Another argument is that stopping face recognition enterprises would stifle innovation.

The story then moves on to talk about the founding of Clearview and the political connections of the founders (Thiel invested in Clearview too). Finally it talks about how widely available face recognition could affect our lives. The story quotes Alvaro Bedoya who started a privacy centre,

“When we interact with people on the street, there’s a certain level of respect accorded to strangers,” Bedoya told me. “That’s partly because we don’t know if people are powerful or influential or we could get in trouble for treating them poorly. I don’t know what happens in a world where you see someone in the street and immediately know where they work, where they went to school, if they have a criminal record, what their credit score is. I don’t know how society changes, but I don’t think it changes for the better.”

It is interesting to think about how face recognition and other technologies may change how we deal with strangers. Too much knowledge could be alienating.

The story closes by describing how Clearview AI helped identify some of the Capitol rioters. Of course it wasn’t just Clearview, but also a citizen investigators who named and shamed people based on photos released.

GameStop, AMC and the Stock Market’s Wild Ride This Week

GameStop Stock Price from Monday to Friday

Here’s what happened when investors using apps like Robinhood began wagering on a pool of unremarkable stocks.

We’ve all been following the story about GameStop, AMC and the Stock Market’s Wild Ride This Week. The story has a nice David and Goliath side where amateur traders stick it to the big Wall Street bullies, but it is also about the random power of internet-enabled crowds.

Continue reading GameStop, AMC and the Stock Market’s Wild Ride This Week

What was Gamergate? The lessons we still haven’t learned

Gamergate should have armed us against bad actors and bad-faith arguments. It didn’t.

Vox has an important article connecting the storming of the US Capitol with Gamergate, What was Gamergate? The lessons we still haven’t learned.  The point is that Gamergate and the storming are the visible symptoms of something deeper. I would go further and connect these with activities that progressives approve of like some of the Anonymous initiatives. For that matter, the recent populist retail investor campaign around stocks like GameStop has similar roots in new forms of organizing and new ironic ideologies.

Continue reading What was Gamergate? The lessons we still haven’t learned

Gather

Gather is a video-calling space that lets multiple people hold separate conversations in parallel, walking in and out of those conversations just as easily as they would in real life.

Kisha introduced me to Gather, a cross between Second Life and Zoom. If you have a Gather account you can create a space – your own little classroom with different gathering spots. People then move around these 8-bit animated spaces and when they are in hearing distance they can video conference. Users can also read posters put up, or documents left around, or watch videos created for a space. It actually looks like a nice type of space for a class to use as an alternative to Zoom.