Tag: discrimination

Empathy, Envy and Justice: The Real Trouble for Algorithm Bias

Rousseau once remarked that “It is, therefore, very certain that compassion is a natural sentiment, which, by moderating the activity of self-esteem in each individual, contributes to the mutual preservation of the whole species” (Discourses on Inequality).  Indeed, it is compassion, and not “reason” that keeps this frail species progressing.   Yet, this ability to be compassionate, which is by its very nature an other-regarding ability, is (ironically) the different side to the same coin: comparison.  Comparison, or perhaps “reflection on certain relations” (e.g. small/big; hard/soft; fast/slow; scared/bold), also has the different and degenerative features of pride and envy.  These twin vices, for Rousseau, are the root of much of the evils in this world.  They are tempered by compassion, but they engender the greatest forms of inequality and injustice in this world.

Rousseau’s insights ought to ring true in our ears today, particularly as we attempt to create artificial intelligences to overtake or mediate many of our social relations.  Recent attention given to “algorithm bias,” where the algorithm for a given task draws from either biased assumptions or biased training data yielding discriminatory results, I would argue is working the problem of reducing bias from the wrong direction.  Many, the White House included, are presently paying much attention about how to eliminate algorithmic bias, or in some instance to solve the “value alignment problem,” thereby indirectly eliminating it.   Why does this matter?  Allow me a brief technological interlude on machine learning and AI to illustrate why eliminating this bias (a la Rousseau) is impossible.

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What Helps End Minority Discrimination? Recent Cool Research

Yesterday, four Neo-Nazis were finally sentenced for their roles in a series of brutal killings of Roma families in Hungary in 2008 and 2009.  Although the convictions have been applauded as a human rights victory, advocates are still demanding that Hungary steps up to the plate and protects the rights of Roma, a historically at-risk minority.  The killings were not isolated events against Roma in Hungary; other discriminatory actions have been occurring, without punitive consequences, for quite some time.

Why are Roma still discriminated against in Hungary?  Hungary is an EU state.  The state’s overall level of human rights practices is not altogether that bad but the level of on-the-ground discrimination against this minority group is appalling.  Unfortunately, the discrimination in Hungary against the Roma is not unusual. What, if anything, can be done to lessen discrimination against the Roma and other minority groups?

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