“That Robot is such a Bigot!”

May 31, 2016 At 12:00pm by: Peter Costa

The White House blog post “Big Risks, Big Opportunities” summarized a White House report highlighting some of the consequences that big data and machine learning will have on our everyday lives.  The hope is to create awareness in how to better harness this new power and mitigate the legitimate potential issues with respect to civil liberties, privacy and opportunity.  But does the White House have a point?  If the power of big data is left unchecked, there’s a risk of perpetuating discrimination and bias within the very scripting of these algorithmic systems.  An example would be how advertisements are tailored to us on all of our social media platforms and email alerts.  Basically using all available information and passive data collection to “segment” or “label” you and put you in a box to sell you something in a box.   Every time you search the web for a product, like something on Facebook, re-tweet a post, you can be sure that there’s some machine learning algorithm combing and filtering through your choices and creating a cyber fingerprint of all of us.  The fear is that there will be obvious gaps where potential discrimination could occur, therefore your cyber self is a poor stereotype of who you truly are and represent.  As a foodie, with an Italian background, that could mean I’m handcuffed to only receive Rosa’s Italian restaurant meatball bonanza specials, and never see my Indo-Chinese favorite “all you can eat” buffet promotions!


From these early algorithms, to the creation of advanced big data machine learning, Artificial Intelligence seems to be evolving and becoming ever more ubiquitous with our current technology integration.  Hollywood’s ominous portrayals of how the final birth of AI will forever impact humanity doesn’t evoke too much confidence.  Let’s face it, the Terminator and SkyNet are closer to reality than ever before.  Why do they always end up wanting to kill us to save us? AI’s early ancestry consists of inputs, coding and ultimate framework that are being constructed by the most flawed, biased and destructive creatures to inhabit the blue dot – us.  Are we able to ensure we instill the best of us for the pursuit of a better tomorrow, Siri?

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