Social, political, and ethical topics

if you torture the data long enough, it will confess

animals are without feeling or awareness of any kind?

But the greatest of all the prejudices we have retained from infancy is that of believing that brutes think

the soul of the brute is of the same nature as our own

Rene Descartes, “Animals are machines”

The celebrated polymath Rene Descartes is known for – among other things – his dualistic philosophy which held that body and mind are ontologically distinct entities. The mind (or “soul”) is the incorporeal seat of consciousness, rationality, and emotion. Besides for being separate from body, minds are unique to human beings, according to Descartes, and therefore animals (“brutes”), being purely of mechanical composition are “machines” which lack the ability to perceive pain. Thus, he advocated live dissection for science and other practices regarded centuries later as cruel, and believed harming animals was of no moral consequence (unless it encroached on another human being). The protesting cry of an animal is no different from a “[whining gear that needs oil.](”

Of course, few people needed a philosophical justification to practice bull-baiting, ___, and other such activities. But an animal rights movement fomented only after the emergence of the view that animals were not categorically distinct from human beings. After all, animals seek food and warmth, recoil from pain, quaver in fear, compete for resources and practice self-preservation. Our ability to empathize with animals comes from this tendency to exhibit faculties we see in ourselves.

As contemporary machines continue to acquire more of the traits we once associated only with “organic” beings, Hollywood movies like Her and Ex Machina have played on this tendency.

But in Descartes time, the notion was widespread. No animal rights groups existed to protest practices like vivisection, bull-baiting, and other abuses.

This chapter will address the various and numerous sociocultural implications surrounding artificial intelligence and machine learning, including ethical and political considerations. It will be mostly a big survey of these, and may be broken out into smaller chapters in the future.

Increasing pervasiveness of machine intelligence

about speculative problems, singularity hype, movies like Terminator, Her, Ex Machina, Matrix…

…but AI systems are widespread now and already, problems which most of the ill-informed movies ignore. There are already clear and present dangers, and issues we are increasingly confronting.

…rethinking their strategies, which means many complex decisions will be sorted out in the near future.

google ceo: ”Machine learning is a core, transformative way by which we’re rethinking everything we’re doing,” he said.

credit card fraud,

In personal communications, we are all familiar with spam filters. But as Google and other companies begin rolling out products like Inbox, we are seeing machine intelligence take up e-mail and communications organization more generally, by offering to sort and group your e-mail according to subject analysis. This is already done, not without controversy, in the retail and commercial sectors where products and inventories are organized by algorithms. With interpersonal communications, these questions persist and hit closer to home.

Questions like:

Like in the trolley problem, there are no obvious solutions to these, partly because they are subjective questions. So how are these decisions arrived at? We’ve seen that various settings and free parameters, and certainly entire architectures have enormous influence on the behavior of these algorithms. Which of these levers are exposed to the user, and which are conveniently automated? How much agency does the user have with respect to that question?

There is a conflict of interest inherent in the last problem. Other entities have a stake in these decisions, in addition to the user. Are some topics favored against others?

Various implications of

[ Inbox:: I’ll give you Tuesday/Thursday ]

The trolley problem and the issue of agency

There is an old __ . A more concrete example of this is the Google driverless car – forced to make a decision who to kill, how does it decide? These are questions with no obvious answers, and even fewer explicit legal frameworks exist to answer them. many have made much commentary about it.

Algorithmic accountability and bias

columbia journo disseration on algo bias

Access to data, research, and tools

Asymmetric access in public / private sphere to resources.

Surveillance and profiling

Terror tuesdays, skynet

Genetic surveillance

HDH has explored this since her work with stranger visions, and subsequent ones.

Predicting crime from faces l’homme criminel Propublica recrimination article

Diversity in research and adjacent fields

The research sector in AI and machine learning suffers from what plagues many fields more generally, particularly the overall field of computer science.

WIML The situation with respect to racial and socioeconomic differences is even more dramatic. Fewer than 3%(?) are POC Even less racial and socioeconomic

Rights of man, rights of machine?

Descartes re: dogs, dogs do not have feelings, you may hurt them

thriving <-> abuse [robot walking along, robot getting messed with, robot getting pushed over]

If you think these questions are overly speculative, long shots, or far off, I invite you to watch to view the robot from the Boston Dynamic group Robot. try to watch this without having feelings

As machines demonstrate more autonomy, can they act out of self-preservation? Nature shows us that self-preservation is a helpful instinct to have and thus selected for it. Will humans, in order to make machines more effective, select for self-preservational qualities? If they begin to clamor for more support, how will we react?


These questions are relevant even to the design of this book! Certain technical features are encapsulated and hidden for the sake of accessibility. Does it encourage reductionist thinking?


these are the sorts of issues movies like Her and Ex Machina play to, but there are numerous issues to contend ith

if you’re skeptical that we’ll have a rights movement for robots, remember that descartes said beasts (animals) had no conciousness/were automatons, ergo you can harm them

AMI on ethics

andrew ng “Worrying about killer robots is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars – we’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.” “standing on railoraod tracks worried about being hit by lightning”

facebook stuff from barca workshop JFK, noted hero on the left

ml fairness how ml decision making is unfair:

know your terrorist credit score

AI safety AI safety (google brain)

WIML gender diversity

chatbots argue

Building Machines That Learn and Think Like People

The Hidden Dangers of AI for Queer and Trans People

enrollment up 600%

fairness in ML delip rao

Chances are your Models are Racist, Sexist, or both

fighting cancer

questions of interest to investigative journalists

emphasis on techniques for activists, journalists, citizen scientists

machine learning has many implications on security, privacy, encryption. neural nets encode information so they can be used for e.g., generating encryption keys, compressing data, etc. so question is how reliable are they? can original info be recovered/decoded? can they be fooled/tampered?

machine learning can de-anonymize (e.g. infer identities from writing style) and de-ambiguate (infer unstated political affiliations, sexual orientation, etc from social media). the same exact algorithms can be used by activists to expose wrongdoing by crawling publicly-released (or leaked) masses of data which are impractical to scan through by journalists.

machine learning runs micro and macroeconomics. financial policy, investment banking, credit rating, etc are all dominated by machine learning, and transactions are increasingly made without human oversight, usually in milliseconds.

pre-crime type stuff (like in minority report) is real. trolley problem type ethics are more relevant to this. so if you cover silicon valley, you may ask how driverless car companies deal with these questions, how datasets are collected and labeled, what contingency plans are when they fail or implicate people falsely.

automated fact-checking

self-driving cars:

social bot interference in global politics

Kate Crawford :: Social Media, Financial Algorithms and the Hack Crash =

pound plunges 6% in 2 minutes (rogue automated algo) 2010 flash crash

Over the last few years, machine learning technologies have trickled out of research labs and into our daily lives. They are widely used in internet and social media applications like content filtering and recommendation, investment and finance, scientific research, and increasingly in unexpected places, such as law enforcement via so-called predictive policing. Many jobs done by humans are increasingly being automated as well; as these machines continue to claim more responsibilities from us, their influence on our lives will continue to grow indefinitely, pushing us to investigate and educate ourselves about how they work, so we can make informed decisions about how to integrate them into society.

deblurring faces

Using Deep Learning and Google Street View to Estimate the Demographic Makeup of the US

easily fooled:

how many jobs lost: