New student group spreads awareness of artificial intelligence ethics, big data injustices

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Graphic by Yunkyo Kim

McCormick junior Mason Secky-Koebel and SESP senior Bijal Mehta created the Responsible Artificial Intelligence Student Organization.

Arianna Carpati, Reporter

When SESP senior Bijal Mehta hosted a meeting on equity and ethics in technology, McCormick junior Mason Secky-Koebel was the only person to show up. That’s when they started talking about artificial intelligence ethics. 

Three months later, Secky-Koebel and Mehta founded the Responsible Artificial Intelligence Student Organization to raise awareness around the ethical issues of AI.

Many industries use algorithms to predict certain outcomes in healthcare, hiring opportunities and other important decisions, Mehta said. Prejudices often get “baked into the data,” she said, and are then reproduced in algorithms that may determine who will be best fit for a job or needs healthcare.  

Because these algorithms are based on historical data, if a company has historically hired White men, Secky-Koebel said an algorithm would look for similar candidates. This lack of preparation for discrepencies perpetuates discrimination against minorities, Mehta said, regardless of the algorithm creator’s intentions.

Mehta said it is a misconception that technology has no biases, because ultimately the creator of the technology can embed their own biases and prejudices into the code. These ethical issues manifest when big tech companies collect data then sell it to advertisers and law enforcement agencies, she said.

RAISO includes several subcommittees, leading projects, hosting speakers and events and preparing education materials.  Their newsletter “Hold The Code,” written for those without a science background, has gained some traction, Secky-Koebel said, with about 90 subscribers. 

Secky-Koebel said he got involved with AI ethics after he read  Shoshana Zuboff’s book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power,”  which examines the development of tech companies like Google and Amazon to propose a new form of capitalism. 

“Technology can take advantage of us and can change our behaviors that more or less remain unforeseen over a long period of time,” Secky-Koebel said.

RAISO is targeting STEM and non-STEM majors alike. Artificial intelligence impacts everyone, not just those who study the practice in school, Secky-Koebel said.

One RAISO member Tiffany Lou joined the organization  to learn more about injustices in big tech. Lou, interested in the intersection of sociology and cognitive science, said she hopes to learn more about how AI companies aren’t creating socially just societies.

“This society already has racial injustice issues, not only racial but also socioeconomic (and) gender,” the Weinberg freshman said. “Algorithms will learn from this current data and then exacerbate this injustice which is something we will have to do something about.”

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Twitter: @ariannacarpati1

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