AI News, Why don’t data scientists get ethics training?

Why don’t data scientists get ethics training?

Amid the outrage and backlash about data privacy in the recent months, data scientists have largely stayed out of the conversation.

Facebook’s grey areas of user privacy and Cambridge Analytica’s psychographic profiling are airing in public while hundreds of other examples of the same behaviours carry on.

In most organisations making their first strides into data science, the only people who really understand what the data is being used for are the data scientists themselves.

While model outputs flow into several different systems, where the data comes from, how it’s transformed into the raw materials of customer or user profiling and what security measures protect it from theft are typically siloed within the data science team.

However, data scientists, who have access to powerful tools that can dissect how people think with an eye towards influencing their behaviours, don’t get a single hour of ethics training in most programs.

Would you sign up for a loyalty rewards programme at the grocery store if you knew we mined that data to determine your healthcare premiums or make credit decisions?

The people who create the terms of service are lawyers with little guidance from data scientists on the ethical consequences of data gathering and distribution.

Right now, the people deciding how data is used and algorithms are deployed spend little to no time discussing the potential ethical implications.

They won’t just be teaching students, but also lawmakers who are under increasing pressure to regulate the wild west of data science.

It’s only responsible that we consider the implications of AI on people before we rush headlong into building the new – that’s the challenge facing this and the next batch of data scientists.

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Should Data Scientists Adhere to a Hippocratic Oath?

Microsoft released a 151-page book last month on the effects of artificial intelligence on society that argued “it could make sense” to bind coders to a pledge like that taken by physicians to “first do no harm.” In San Francisco Tuesday, dozens of data scientists from tech companies, governments, and nonprofits gathered to start drafting an ethics code for their profession.

The general feeling at the gathering was that it’s about time that the people whose powers of statistical analysis target ads, advise on criminal sentencing, and accidentally enable Russian disinformation campaigns woke up to their power, and used it for the greater good.

Patil envisages data scientists armed with an ethics code throwing themselves against corporate and institutional gears to prevent things like deployment of biased algorithms in criminal justice.

“We're in our infancy as a discipline and it falls to us, more than anyone, to shepherd society through the opportunities and challenges of the petabyte world of AI,” Dave Goodsmith, from enterprise software startup DataScience.com wrote in the busy Slack group for Tuesday’s effort.

The draft code looks like a list of general principles no one would disagree with, he says, and is being launched into an area that lacks authorities or legislation to enforce rules of practice anyway.

“The idea you can fix an entire complex problem like data breaches through some kind of ethical code is to engage in that same kind of hubris.” One topic of debate Tuesday was whether a non-binding, voluntary code would really protect data scientists who dared to raise ethical concerns in the workplace.

“We create Microsoft Word and know people can use it to write good things or horrendous things.” Privacy activist Aral Balkan argues that an ethics code like that drafted this week could actually worsen societal harms caused by technology.

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