Josh Simons is a Harvard-Kennedy scholar and PhD candidate in Harvard University’s Government Department.
Josh’s research explores the politics and ethics of machine learning. His dissertation argues that machine learning is political. In the context of social inequality encoded in vast data sets, machine learning requires choices to be made, from which some win and some lose, and which will shape the distribution of power over time. The dissertation explores what follows from recognising the political character of machine learning. It uses machine learning to explore familiar problems in politics, about discrimination and fairness, justice and justification, and even the scope of politics.
Josh is currently a India-U.S. Public Interest Technology Fellow. His research in India draws on B.R. Ambedkar's ideas and constitutional writings to inform the debate about fairness in machine learning. How should democracies govern decision-making procedures that aspire to formal equality in the context of structural social equality encoded in datasets? The paper explores what the Anglo-American debate can learn about answering this question from Ambedkar and the Indian Constitution.
More broadly, Josh is interested in a particular challenge that arises in all modern democracies. In societies characterised by profound social and economic inequalities, democracy offers the promise of political and legal equality. Those societies are often extraordinarily complicated, shaped by interconnected financial markets and rapidly evolving technologies, requiring extensive regulatory oversight. What does democracy mean in unequal, complex societies in the midst of rapid change? What can we learn from the last century about democracy's strengths and weaknesses, what energises it and what drains it of life? What must democracy do differently in the next century? Four democracies have shaped Josh's thinking on these subjects, and others: India and the U.S., Israel and the U.K.
Beyond his doctoral research, Josh is working with Danielle Allen on an edited volume on ‘Political Economy and Justice’. This project gathers some of the world’s leading economists, historians, sociologists and political scientists to rethink the foundations of political economy, to try to find answers to the crisis of democratic market societies. Josh is also working with Michael Sandel to explore the values and principles that capture our relationship with work, as part of the Future of Work Commission in the UK. He has recently been conducting interviews on this subject in Huntington, West Virginia.
Josh has always been interested in progressive politics and ideas. He wrote about the history and idea of British identity, an identity which has come under sustained pressure in British politics. He was previously worked on defence and economic policy, as a Policy Advisor for the Labour Party, and on housing policy for the Institute for Public Policy Research, both in the UK.
Josh did his undergraduate degree in Social and Political Sciences in Cambridge, UK, graduating top of his year with a starred double first.