AI in the Open World: Directions, Challenges, and Futures

Speaker: Eric Horvitz
Date recorded: Apr 27, 2017
Eric Horvitz breaks down societal and technological complications of using AI.

Eric Horvitz – Artificial intelligence (AI) is at an inflection point and is poised to move into the open world and into our lives in numerous ways that will have numerous influences on people and society. While AI promises to provide great value, along with the aspirations come concerns about inadvertent costs, rough edges, and failures. Concerns include failures of automation in the open world, biased data and algorithms, opacity of reasoning, adversarial attacks on AI systems, and runaway AI. Horvitz will discuss short- and longer-term challenges and discuss studies aimed at addressing concerns, including the One Hundred Year Study on AI at Stanford University and the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society.

Eric Horvitz is a technical fellow and director at Microsoft Research. His interests span theoretical and practical challenges in AI and he has made contributions in machine learning, perception, decision making, and human-computer interaction. More information and publications are available at http://erichorvitz.com.

Why Should We Care About the Failure of the British Computing Industry?

Speaker: Marie Hicks
Date recorded: Apr 19, 2017
Marie Hicks talks about her latest book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing.

Marie Hicks draws on the example of our closest historical cousin–the UK– to look at the ways in which computing initiatives often go wrong in unexpected ways at the national level. In 1944, the UK led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers. This talk will outline the systematic processes deployed by the UK government to enhance the nation’s technological superiority–and through that its global political standing–and discuss why these efforts went disastrously wrong. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the ways the US is currently falling prey to similar errors of judgement in its attempts to leverage computing technology as an engine of social and economic change.

Marie Hicks is an assistant professor of history of technology at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois. Her work focuses on how gender and sexuality bring hidden technological dynamics to light, and how women’s experiences change the core narrative of the history of computing. Hicks’s book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing is available from MIT Press (2017). For more information, see programmedinequality.com. Hicks received her MA and Ph.D. from Duke University and her BA from Harvard University. Before entering academia, she worked as a UNIX systems administrator.

Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin

Speaker: Sareeta Amrute
Date recorded: Apr 13, 2017
Sareeta Amrute talks about her new book Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin.

Sareeta Amrute, professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, describes her research on the professional and private lives of highly skilled Indian IT coders in Berlin to reveal the oft-obscured realities of the embodied, raced, and classed nature of cognitive labor.

Post-Truth and New Realities: Algorithms, Alternative Facts, and Digital Ethics

Speaker: Maurizio Ferraris and Martin Scherzinger
Date recorded: Apr 12, 2017
Maurizio Ferraris and Martin Scherzinger talk about the conditions that allowed the rise of our Post-Truth movement.

Maurizio Ferraris and Martin Scherzinger – Recent scandals around alternative facts, post-truth, and hacking have raised a constellation of questions regarding the intersection of digital tools, the construction or verification of reality, and issues of power and authorship. Such questions have been at the center of theoretical and literary discussions in continental philosophy and critical theory for some years, drawing from or pushing against post-structuralist assertions regarding the death of the author and the relativism of ontology. Today, these questions are articulated in the realm of techno-politics with a new urgency.

The talk was moderated by Jessica Feldman from New York University’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, and hosted by Robyn Caplan from Data & Society Research Institute.

Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality

Speaker: Meryl Alper
Date recorded: Apr 6, 2017
Meryl Alper talks about her new book Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality.

Meryl Alper- Mobile communication technologies are often hailed in the popular press and public policy as a means of “giving voice to the voiceless.” Behind the praise are determinist beliefs about technology as a gateway to opportunity, voice as a metaphor for agency and self-representation, and voicelessness as a stable and natural category. In this talk, based on her new book Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality (MIT Press, 2017), Meryl Alper offers a new angle on these established critiques through a qualitative study of individuals with significant communication disabilities who use mobile devices for synthetic speech output. Alper finds that despite widespread claims to empowerment, these tools are still subject to disempowering structural inequalities. Culture, laws, institutions, and even technology itself can reinforce disparities among those with disabilities across class, race, ethnicity, and gender. Alper argues that voice is an overused and imprecise metaphor in media and communication studies, one that abstracts, obscures, and oversimplifies the human experience of disability. She will discuss implications of her research for our rapidly changing media ecology and political environment, where the question is not only which voices get to speak, but also who is thought to have a voice to speak with in the first place.

BioTech Futures Part 2

Speaker: Christina Agapakis
Date recorded: Mar 16, 2017
Christina Agapakis, the creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks and one of the world’s first biodesigners, discusses biotechnology and feminism.

Christina Agapakis, the creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks and one of the world’s first biodesigners, discusses biotechnology and feminism.

In the early 2000s, a group of scientists from outside mainstream biology proposed that they would make living things behave like computers. They would treat DNA like command code; they would make cells behave with Boolean logic; and ultimately they would make life programmable. They called their field synthetic biology. Since its inception, synthetic biology has influenced the practice biological research, current understanding of biological systems, and the biotech economy— by 2019 the global synthetic biology market is projected to be worth $13.4 billion.

ABOUT THE SERIES

The Biotech Futures Talk + Lab Series explores the implications of and ways in which biology is becoming a data science. Each talk is paired with a 3-4 hour lab workshop at Genspace for Data & Society and Genspace community members to demonstrate how these themes become realized in the lab.

Christina Agapakis is creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks, a biological design company growing cultured products for partners across many industries. Her work brings together biologists, engineers, designers, artists, and social scientists to explore the future of biotechnology. During her PhD at Harvard, she worked on producing hydrogen fuel in bacteria and making photosynthetic animals. She has taught designers at the Art Center College of Design and biomolecular engineers at UCLA, and she once made cheese using bacteria from the human body.

BioTech Futures Part 1

Speaker: Tom Knight
Date recorded: Mar 16, 2017
Tom Knight discusses the origin of the synthetic biology and how it has evolved.

Tom Knight, considered the “godfather” of synthetic biology, discusses the origin of the scientific field and how it has evolved.

In the early 2000s, a group of scientists from outside mainstream biology proposed that they would make living things behave like computers. They would treat DNA like command code; they would make cells behave with Boolean logic; and ultimately they would make life programmable. They called their field synthetic biology. Since its inception, synthetic biology has influenced the practice biological research, current understanding of biological systems, and the biotech economy— by 2019 the global synthetic biology market is projected to be worth $13.4 billion.

Tom Knight spent most of his career teaching computer science and electrical engineering at MIT, before playing the major role in creating the engineering discipline of synthetic biology. In 1996 he seeded interest in the field at DARPA, and built a molecular biology laboratory in the MIT computer science department. He developed important standards for engineering biological systems, specifically Biobricks, the first standard assembly technique for functional DNA components, and in establishing the MIT Registry of Standard Biological Parts.

He was one of four founders of IGEM, an international competition between undergraduate teams to design and build biological systems, now hosting 300 teams across the globe. In 2008, he co-founded Ginkgo Bioworks, where he remains a full time researcher. His interests include minimal organisms, origins of life, and predictive models of biological systems. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a director of the IGEM Foundation, and member of the International Committee on the Taxonamy of the Mollicutes.

Online Harassment, Risky Research, and Activism

Speaker: Amanda Lenhart, Alice Marwick, & Zara Rahman
Date recorded: Mar 8, 2017
Amanda Lenhart, Alice Marwick, & Zara Rahman on the prevalence online harassment and the potential effects on research and activism.

Amanda Lenhart, Alice Marwick, & Zara Rahman on the prevalence online harassment and the potential effects on research and activism.

Amanda Lenhart is a Senior Research Scientist at the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Amanda was formerly a Researcher at the Data & Society Research Institute. At Data & Society, she led a Digital Trust Foundation-funded project examining the prevalence of cyberstalking and digital domestic abuse in the United States. Amanda has also been involved in Knight Foundation study on youth and mobile news consumption at Data & Society, as well as working on outside projects on the educational technology ecosystem of very young children in Silicon Valley and on paid and unpaid family leave for caregivers.

Alice E. Marwick is Director of the McGannon Communication Research Center and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University. She is also a fellow at Data & Society. Her work examines the legal, political, and social implications of popular social media technologies. She is the author of Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age which examines how people seek online status through attention and visibility. She has written for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Wired, and The Guardian, as well as many academic publications. Alice has a PhD from the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University.

Zara Rahman is a feminist and information activist who has worked in over twenty countries in the field of information accessibility and data use among civil society. She is Research Lead at the engine room, a non-profit organization supporting the use of technology and data in advocacy. She is a fellow at Data & Society where her research looks at the role of people who bridge gaps between activists and technologists and facilitate more responsible and effective use of data and technology in activism.

Related links:
Best Practices for Conducting Risky Research

How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts

Speaker: Jennifer Pan
Date recorded: Feb 22, 2017
Jennifer Pan on how the Chinese government fabricates social media posts for strategic distraction, not engaged argument.

Jennifer Pan: The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called “50c party” posts vociferously argue for the government’s side in political and policy debates. Jennifer’s research shows that this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime’s strategic objective in pursuing this activity.

In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, Jennifer’s research reveals how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. She and her team estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, her research shows that the Chinese regime’s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. Her work infers that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to regularly distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime. She will discuss how these results fit with what is known about the Chinese censorship program, and suggest how they may change our broader theoretical understanding of “common knowledge” and information control in authoritarian regimes.

Jennifer Pan is an Assistant Professor of Communication, Assistant Professor, by courtesy, of Political Science and of Sociology at Stanford University. Her research focuses on the politics of authoritarian (non-democratic) countries in the digital age. How autocrats constrain collective action through online censorship, propaganda, and responsiveness. How information proliferation influences the ability of authoritarian regimes to collect reliable information. How public preferences are arranged and formed. She combines experimental and computational methods with large-scale datasets on political activity in China and other authoritarian regimes to examine these questions. Her work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, and Science. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University’s Department of Government in 2015. She graduated from Princeton University, summa cum laude, in 2004, and until 2009, she was a consultant at McKinsey & Company based in New York and Beijing.

Data Science from Wall Street to Startups to Academic Biomedicine

Speaker: Jeff Hammerbacher
Date recorded: Feb 16, 2017
Jeff Hammerbacher discusses academic biomedicine research at Hammer Lab, and how his prior experience in data science at Bear Stearns, Facebook, and Cloudera motivate his work.

Jeff Hammerbacher gives an overview of his work at Hammer Lab where he and his colleagues use data science to understand and improve the immune response to cancer. He also discusses the design of Hammer Lab, particularly focusing on ways that the lab is directly informed and motivated by his prior work experience at Bear Stearns, Facebook, and Cloudera.

Jeff is an Assistant Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, a founder and the Chief Scientist of Cloudera, an angel investor with his wife Halle Tecco at Techammer, and a board member of CIOX Health and Sage Bionetworks. Jeff was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Accel Partners immediately prior to founding Cloudera. Before Accel, he conceived, built, and led the Data team at Facebook. Before joining Facebook, Jeff was a quantitative analyst on Wall Street. Jeff earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from Harvard University.