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R. David Edelman Speaks to York College About Artificial Intelligence

R. David Edelman Lecture

R. David Edelman, Chief Technology Advisor during the Obama Administration, gave a lecture at York College on “Machines that Discriminate: Fairness and Social Justice in the Era of Big Data”. As the previous senior advisor for Economic and Technology Policy, Edelman was named a Forbes “Top 30 Under 30’ in 2015 and is now the Director of the project on Technology, the Economy, & National Security at MIT.

Current students, prospective students, and faculty gathered to learn about the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence (AI). These AI systems are as mysterious and confusing to us, as iPhones and the Internet would be to people that lived during the Revolutionary War.

Edelman described a process that “hands the power to machines”. In other words, humans are completely removed from technological processes as AI systems quickly speed past the limitations they previously had. These machines certainly offer valuable uses including algorithms that sort through job applications and tools for personalized learning. But what are the risks of putting so much faith in non-human decision-makers?

As Edelman explained, AI systems are intelligent, but not intelligent enough to know how to stop things that could harm or divide people. This fundamental flaw is how Russia used online ads as weapons of dividing American political parties. It’s also how resume algorithms are prone to bias.

These programs essentially follow “Garbage in, garbage out,” or  “Bias in, bias out.” AI is great for predicting patterns among data, but it’s not so good at maintaining fairness.

With this imbalance of accuracy and fairness in mind, it’s important to know how people can offset this fatal flaw of AI. Edelman reminded the audience that there’s a chance that everyone would at some point be in contact and have control over AI and therefore, should work toward creating a better quality of those systems. 

To end the lecture, Edelman left us with powerful advice that people of all fields should follow: “Build for opportunity. Build for justice.”

Written by Rachel Harclerode, Office of Communications Intern