Algorithmic bias or fairness: the importance of the economic context – Catherine Tucker

MIT Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management and Professor of Marketing Catherine Tucker

From the Shorenstein Center

As a society, we have shifted from a world where policy fears are focused on the ubiquity of digital data, to one where those concerns now center on the potential harm caused by the automated processing of this data. Given this, I find it useful as an economist to investigate what leads algorithms to reach apparently biased results—and whether there are causes grounded in economics.

Excellent work from the discipline of computer science has already documented apparent bias in the algorithmic delivery of internet advertising [1]. Recent research of mine built on this finding by running a field test on Facebook (and replicated on Google and Twitter), which revealed that an ad promoting careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) was shown to between 20 and 40 percent more men than women across different age groups [2]. This test accounted for users from 190 different countries, with the ad displayed to at least 5,000 eyeballs in each country. In every case, the ad was specified as gender-neutral in terms of who it should be shown to.

When my team and I investigated why it was shown to far more men than women, we found that it is not because men use these internet sites more than women. Nor is it because women fail to show interest or click on these types of ads—thereby prompting the algorithm to respond to a perceived lack of interest. (In fact, our results showed that if women do see a STEM career ad, they are more likely than men to click on it.) Nor does it seem to echo any cultural bias against women in the workplace. The extent of female equality in each of the countries as measured by the World Bank was found to be empirically irrelevant for predicting this bias.

Instead, we discovered that the reason this variety of ad is shown to more men than women is because other types of advertisers actually seem to value the opportunity to get their ads in front of female (rather than male) eyeballs—and they’ll spend more to do it. Some advertisers’ willingness to pay more to show ads to women means that an ad which doesn’t specify a gender target is shown to fewer women than men. In essence, the algorithm in this case was designed to minimize costs and maximize exposure, so it shows the ad in question to fewer expensive women than what amounts to a greater number of relatively cheaper men.

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Robots won’t steal our jobs if we put workers at center of AI revolution – Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From The Conversation

The technologies driving artificial intelligence are expanding exponentially, leading many technology experts and futurists to predict machines will soon be doing many of the jobs that humans do today. Some even predict humans could lose control over their future.

While we agree about the seismic changes afoot, we don’t believe this is the right way to think about it. Approaching the challenge this way assumes society has to be passive about how tomorrow’s technologies are designed and implemented. The truth is there is no absolute law that determines the shape and consequences of innovation. We can all influence where it takes us.

Thus, the question society should be asking is: “How can we direct the development of future technologies so that robots complement rather than replace us?”

The Japanese have an apt phrase for this: “giving wisdom to the machines.” And the wisdom comes from workers and an integrated approach to technology design, as our research shows.

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Don’t let the crypto circus in congress fool you – Michael Casey

Michael Casey, Senior Lecturer, Global Economics and Management

Michael Casey, Senior Lecturer, Global Economics and Management

From Coindesk

Progress?

Judging from the most eye-catching headlines from two separate hearings on Capitol Hill Wednesday, it’s tempting to conclude there has been little of it from U.S. regulators and legislators in their comprehension of cryptocurrencies these past five years.

In fact, Rep. Brad Sherman’s laughable suggestion during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in the house that the U.S. ban mining and purchases of bitcoin could suggest we’ve gone backward since bitcoin was first discussed in Congress in the fall of 2013.

At that time, the sight of Jennifer Shasky Calvery, then-director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), telling bitcoin exchanges and wallets they needed to register with FinCEN, was ultimately viewed positively by crypto enthusiasts. In showing that regulators like her weren’t inherently hostile to cryptocurrencies, Calvery’s comments led to a doubling in bitcoin’s price over the following two weeks to more than $1,100 in early December.

Now, five years on, some officials do sound a bit hostile.

At a separate hearing the same day as Sherman’s grandstanding, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said cryptocurrencies are “great if you’re trying to hide or launder money.” Had he noticed how the FBI had traced the bitcoin transactions of the 12 Russians indicted last week for trying to tamper with U.S. elections?

The folly of his position was indirectly identified over at the other hearing, where Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Michael Conaway — who presumably did not intend to take a dig at the Fed Chairman — joked, “As long as the stupid criminals keep using bitcoin, it’ll be great.”

It’s best to look beyond the eye-catching headlines, however. In the wider context, it’s clear that we have actually come some way forward in regulatory comprehension of this technology. And that’s a good thing. Read More »

Trumponomics is failing on growth – Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From Project Syndicate

WASHINGTON, DC – US President Donald Trump and his Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, have promised an economic miracle. They argue that when the United States adopts their policies, it will consistently achieve annual economic growth above 3%, or even above 4%. After a year of being in charge, pushing hard on deregulation, and getting what it wanted in terms of tax cuts, how is the Trump team doing?

We are still in the early days, but the results so far have been disappointing. And the US’s medium-term prospects for sustained growth could be endangered if Trump pursues the policies he claims to want.

Trump has repeatedly argued that America’s overall economic performance in 2017 should be seen as the direct result of his policies, and he has made a big deal out of the third-quarter growth rate, which was initially reported as 3.3%, then revised down to 3.2%. Yet, in the fourth quarter, growth was down to 2.6%, and initial estimates suggest that overall growth for the year will not surpass 2.3%. That is lower than what was achieved under former President Barack Obama in 2014 (2.6%) and 2015 (2.9%).

In fact, under Obama, the quarterly growth rate surpassed 3% seven times, and even reached 4.6% on two occasions. From the third quarter of 2009, growth was positive in every quarter, save two. But not only was headline growth sturdy under Obama; his administration also presided over considerable job growth – the economy added more than two million jobs annually in seven out of his eight years in office – as well as falling unemployment and higher labor-force participation. Read More »

Here’s how workers would spend the corporate tax cut – if they had a voice – Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Prof. Thomas Kochan

From The Conversation

Over 200 CEOs have said they will raise wages or give bonuses as a result of the large corporate income tax cut passed late last year by Congress.

Some view their plans as simply a public relations move, others as a response to tighter labor markets or worker pressures. Pretty much everyone hopes that it might signal a new era in which corporate leaders share earnings with workers in ways they have not done in the past.

I’m among those who hold such a hope. Only if such profit sharing becomes the norm will the long-term trends in widening income inequality and wage stagnation be reversed.

But why should this decision be left to CEOs? Don’t workers have a legitimate claim and stake in what is done with the profits they help produce? New research I’ve been leading at MIT finally gives workers a voice on these issues and many others. Read More »