Popular Press

Embedding Ethics in Computer Science Curriculum
Paul Karoff. 1/25/2019. “Embedding Ethics in Computer Science Curriculum.” The Harvard Gazette. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Barbara Grosz has a fantasy that every time a computer scientist logs on to write an algorithm or build a system, a message will flash across the screen that asks, “Have you thought about the ethical implications of what you’re doing?”

Until that day arrives, Grosz, the Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), is working to instill in the next generation of computer scientists a mindset that considers the societal impact of their work, and the ethical reasoning and communications skills to do so.

“Ethics permeates the design of almost every computer system or algorithm that’s going out in the world,” Grosz said. “We want to educate our students to think not only about what systems they could build, but whether they shouldbuild those systems and how they should design those systems.”

At a time when computer science departments around the country are grappling with how to turn out graduates who understand ethics as well as algorithms, Harvard is taking a novel approach.


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How Can Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) Help Improve Company Performance?
Talha Oz. 2018. “How Can Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) Help Improve Company Performance?” Humanyze. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is the set of scientific methods and theories to help understand interactions within an organization. It helps executives and managers to intervene at critical times, increase performance, and reduce costs.

There’s increasing pressure on executives to drive sustained, long-term growth. Yet, they lack the information they need to make informed business decisions and successfully initiate change. As organizations restructure departments to have fewer hierarchical levels, work increasingly occurs between social networks, rather than though prescribed reporting structures. Research shows that employees look to their networks to find information and to solve problems. Communication no longer flows solely from senior management to individual contributors – information moves through social networks, between colleagues and different teams. Organizations can analyze social networks to assess how information flows between teams and to intervene at critical times in order to improve how work gets done.

Key takeaways:

– Explore the benefits of supporting organizational networks
– How network analysis can impact company performance
– How to interpret network graphs
– Business applications of ONA  for human resources, business processes, and corporate real estate decisions

Artificial Intelligence and Ethics
Jonathan Shaw. 1/2019. “Artificial Intelligence and Ethics.” Harvard Magazine. Publisher's VersionAbstract

ON MARCH 18, 2018, at around 10 P.M., Elaine Herzberg was wheeling her bicycle across a street in Tempe, Arizona, when she was struck and killed by a self-driving car. Although there was a human operator behind the wheel, an autonomous system—artificial intelligence—was in full control. This incident, like others involving interactions between people and AI technologies, raises a host of ethical and proto-legal questions. What moral obligations did the system’s programmers have to prevent their creation from taking a human life? And who was responsible for Herzberg’s death? The person in the driver’s seat? The company testing the car’s capabilities? The designers of the AI system, or even the manufacturers of its onboard sensory equipment?

“Artificial intelligence” refers to systems that can be designed to take cues from their environment and, based on those inputs, proceed to solve problems, assess risks, make predictions, and take actions. In the era predating powerful computers and big data, such systems were programmed by humans and followed rules of human invention, but advances in technology have led to the development of new approaches. One of these is machine learning, now the most active area of AI, in which statistical methods allow a system to “learn” from data, and make decisions, without being explicitly programmed. Such systems pair an algorithm, or series of steps for solving a problem, with a knowledge base or stream—the information that the algorithm uses to construct a model of the world.

Ethical concerns about these advances focus at one extreme on the use of AI in deadly military drones, or on the risk that AI could take down global financial systems. Closer to home, AI has spurred anxiety about unemployment, as autonomous systems threaten to replace millions of truck drivers, and make Lyft and Uber obsolete. And beyond these larger social and economic considerations, data scientists have real concerns about bias, about ethical implementations of the technology, and about the nature of interactions between AI systems and humans if these systems are to be deployed properly and fairly in even the most mundane applications.

Consider a prosaic-seeming social change: machines are already being given the power to make life-altering, everyday decisions about people. Artificial intelligence can aggregate and assess vast quantities of data that are sometimes beyond human capacity to analyze unaided, thereby enabling AI to make hiring recommendations, determine in seconds the creditworthiness of loan applicants, and predict the chances that criminals will re-offend.

But such applications raise troubling ethical issues because AI systems can reinforce what they have learned from real-world data, even amplifying familiar risks, such as racial or gender bias. Systems can also make errors of judgment when confronted with unfamiliar scenarios. And because many such systems are “black boxes,” the reasons for their decisions are not easily accessed or understood by humans—and therefore difficult to question, or probe.

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A.I. as Talent Scout: Unorthodox Hires, and Maybe Lower Pay
Noam Scheiber. 12/6/2018. “A.I. as Talent Scout: Unorthodox Hires, and Maybe Lower Pay.” The New York Times. Publisher's VersionAbstract

One day this fall, Ashutosh Garg, the chief executive of a recruiting service called Eightfold.ai, turned up a résumé that piqued his interest.

It belonged to a prospective data scientist, someone who unearths patterns in data to help businesses make decisions, like how to target ads. But curiously, the résumé featured the term “data science” nowhere.

Instead, the résumé belonged to an analyst at Barclays who had done graduate work in physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Though his profile on the social network LinkedIn indicated that he had never worked as a data scientist, Eightfold’s software flagged him as a good fit. He was similar in certain key ways, like his math and computer chops, to four actual data scientists whom Mr. Garg had instructed the software to consider as a model.

The idea is not to focus on job titles, but “what skills they have,” Mr. Garg said. “You’re really looking for people who have not done it, but can do it.”

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A University Took an Uncommonly Close Look at Its Student-Conduct Data. Here’s What It Found.
Dan Bauman. 8/28/2018. “A University Took an Uncommonly Close Look at Its Student-Conduct Data. Here’s What It Found.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Publisher's VersionAbstract
When colleges try to understand their students, they resort to a common tool: the survey.

And surveys are fine, says Dayna Weintraub, director of student-affairs research and assessment at Rutgers University at New Brunswick. But she also recognizes their drawbacks: poor response rates, underrepresentation of particular demographic groups, and, in certain instances, answers that lack needed candor.

And so, to assess and change student conduct in a more effective way, Weintraub and her colleagues have tried a new approach: find existing, direct, and detailed data on how Rutgers students conduct themselves, and combine them.

Leading the effort was Kevin Pitt, director of student conduct at the New Jersey university. Working alongside Weintraub, he and his team analyzed, with granular specificity, the behavior patterns of students in a variety of contexts: consuming excessive alcohol or drugs, in questionable sexual situations, and others. Pitt and his team examined student-level trends within those areas, combining a variety of previously siloed databases to sketch a more-informative picture of student life at Rutgers.

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Amazon scrapped 'sexist AI' tool
10/10/2018. “Amazon scrapped 'sexist AI' tool.” BBC News. Publisher's VersionAbstract

An algorithm that was being tested as a recruitment tool by online giant Amazon was sexist and had to be scrapped, according to a Reuters report. The artificial intelligence system was trained on data submitted by applicants over a 10-year period, much of which came from men, it claimed.

Reuters was told by members of the team working on it that the system effectively taught itself that male candidates were preferable. Amazon has not responded to the claims.

Reuters spoke to five members of the team who developed the machine learning tool in 2014, none of whom wanted to be publicly named. They told Reuters that the system was intended to review job applications and give candidates a score ranging from one to five stars.

"They literally wanted it to be an engine where I'm going to give you 100 resumes, it will spit out the top five, and we'll hire those," said one of the engineers who spoke to Reuters.

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Making it easier to discover datasets
Natasha Noy. 9/5/2018. “Making it easier to discover datasets.” Google Blog. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In today's world, scientists in many disciplines and a growing number of journalists live and breathe data. There are many thousands of data repositories on the web, providing access to millions of datasets; and local and national governments around the world publish their data as well. To enable easy access to this data, we launched Dataset Search, so that scientists, data journalists, data geeks, or anyone else can find the datarequired for their work and their stories, or simply to satisfy their intellectual curiosity.

Similar to how Google Scholar works, Dataset Search lets you find datasets wherever they’re hosted, whether it’s a publisher's site, a digital library, or an author's personal web page. To create Dataset search, we developed guidelines for dataset providers to describe their data in a way that Google (and other search engines) can better understand the content of their pages. These guidelines include  salient information about datasets: who created the dataset, when it was published, how the data was collected, what the terms are for using the data, etc. We then collect and link this information, analyze where different versions of the same dataset might be, and find publications that may be describing or discussing the dataset. Our approach is based on an open standard for describing this information (schema.org) and anybody who publishes data can describe their dataset this way. We encourage dataset providers, large and small, to adopt this common standard so that all datasets are part of this robust ecosystem.

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The new fast.ai research datasets collection, on AWS Open Data
Jeremy Howard and Jed Sundwall. 10/16/2018. “The new fast.ai research datasets collection, on AWS Open Data.” fast.ai. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In machine learning and deep learning we can’t do anything without data. So the people that create datasets for us to train our models are the (often under-appreciated) heroes. Some of the most useful and important datasets are those that become important “academic baselines”; that is, datasets that are widely studied by researchers and used to compare algorithmic changes. Some of these become household names (at least, among households that train models!), such as MNISTCIFAR 10, and Imagenet.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to those kind folks who have made datasets available for the research community. So fast.ai and the AWS Public Dataset Program have teamed up to try to give back a little: we’ve made some of the most important of these datasets available in a single place, using standard formats, on reliable and fast infrastructure. For a full list and links see the fast.ai datasets page.

fast.ai uses these datasets in the Deep Learning for Coders courses, because they provide great examples of the kind of data that students are likely to encounter, and the academic literature has many examples of model results using these datasets which students can compare their work to. If you use any of these datasets in your research, please show your gratitude by citing the original paper (we’ve provided the appropriate citation link below for each), and if you use them as part of a commercial or educational project, consider adding a note of thanks and a link to the dataset.

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Dodgers, Brewers show how analytics is changing baseball
Bradford Doolittle. 10/19/2018. “Dodgers, Brewers show how analytics is changing baseball.” ESPN. Publisher's VersionAbstract

 You want to know which teams are at the forefront of analytics? Just look around at the teams still playing.

Once upon a time, there was the Oakland Athletics and a sacred tome called "Moneyball." It was about baseball teams winning with statistics. Only it wasn't about that at all. It was about market inefficiency. Then John Henry bought the Boston Red Sox, hired Bill James, made Theo Epstein his general manager, and Moneyball spread to a big market.

We're several iterations past all of that. Things move fast in technology, so fast it can even carry a tradition-based industry like baseball into the digital age. These days, every team is playing Moneyball. All of them, as in 30 for 30.

"At this point, I think everyone assumes that their counterpart is smart," Brewers general manager David Stearns said. "And everyone is doing what they can do to unearth competitive advantages." To call it Moneyball is not right, either. Michael Lewis is still turning out ground-breaking work, but to fully capture what is happening in big league front offices, circa 2018, the next inside look at analytics and baseball would need to be authored by someone like the late Stephen Hawking. It's hard to say what you'd call it. "The Singularity" has already been taken.

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The Tech That Tracks Your Movement at Work
Ryan Derousseau. 6/14/2017. “The Tech That Tracks Your Movement at Work.” BBC. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Do you feel as if there’s always someone watching you at work?

You might be right: the way companies monitor employees has broadened beyond simply requiring workers to tap in and out of an office building. Advances in technology and a hunger for data have now created a market for devices that can measure workers’ movements, fitness and even sleep – all in the name of productivity.

Take Humanyze, for example, a start-up based in Boston, Massachusetts, which supplies companies with employee ID badges replete with inbuilt biometric measuring capabilities.

A plethora of tech within the badges tracks everything from movements and interactions around the office, to lengths of conversations, and even voice tone. CEO Ben Waber told Techworld earlier this year that microphones within the badges can process vocal information to detect whether a person dominates conversations, as well as tone, volume and speed of speech.

With these, the company aims to change the traditional role of management consultants in the workplace. According to Humanyze, these “people analytics,” can help measure everything from how often workers are disrupted, to the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programmes.

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Inside Google’s culture of relentless self-surveying
Tim Fernholz. 6/26/2013. “Inside Google’s culture of relentless self-surveying.” Quartz. Publisher's VersionAbstract

When Google recently admitted that the baffling brainteasers it posed to interviewees were utterly useless at predicting which ones would make good employees, it was another example of the power of what Google calls “people analytics”—the mixing of Big Data with management science to come up with smarter ways to work.

The company’s obsession with human data is perhaps best known for producing the rule that no employee should sit more than 150 feet (46 meters) away from a micro-kitchen, and that in those kitchens the chocolate M&Ms be kept in opaque jars while healthier food is in clear containers, to encourage healthy eating habits. Google’s often controversial culture of omniscience about its users is mirrored, inside its posh campuses, by a team of industrial-organizational psychologists, behavioral economists, consultants and statisticians who survey and experiment with Google’s staff.

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There will be little privacy in the workplace of the future
3/28/2018. “There will be little privacy in the workplace of the future”.Abstract

Walk up a set of steep stairs next to a vegan Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, and you will see the future of work, or at least one version of it. This is the local office of Humanyze, a firm that provides “people analytics”. It counts several Fortune 500 companies among its clients (though it will not say who they are). Its employees mill around an office full of sunlight and computers, as well as beacons that track their location and interactions. Everyone is wearing an ID badge the size of a credit card and the depth of a book of matches. It contains a microphone that picks up whether they are talking to one another; Bluetooth and infrared sensors to monitor where they are; and an accelerometer to record when they move.

“Every aspect of business is becoming more data-driven. There’s no reason the people side of business shouldn’t be the same,” says Ben Waber, Humanyze’s boss. The company’s staff are treated much the same way as its clients. Data from their employees’ badges are integrated with information from their e-mail and calendars to form a full picture of how they spend their time at work. Clients get to see only team-level statistics, but Humanyze’s employees can look at their own data, which include metrics such as time spent with people of the same sex, activity levels and the ratio of time spent speaking versus listening.

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University of Arizona tracks student ID cards to detect who might drop out
Shannon Liao. 3/12/2018. “University of Arizona tracks student ID cards to detect who might drop out.” The Verge. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The University of Arizona is tracking freshman students’ ID card swipes to anticipate which students are more likely to drop out. University researchers hope to use the data to lower dropout rates. (Dropping out refers to those who have left higher-education entirely and those who transfer to other colleges.)

The card data tells researchers how frequently a student has entered a residence hall, library, and the student recreation center, which includes a salon, convenience store, mail room, and movie theater. The cards are also used for buying vending machine snacks and more, putting the total number of locations near 700. There’s a sensor embedded in the CatCard student IDs, which are given to every student attending the university.

“By getting their digital traces, you can explore their patterns of movement, behavior and interactions, and that tells you a great deal about them,” Sudha Ram, a professor of management information systems who directs the initiative, said in a press release.

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How the Eagles Followed the Numbers to the Super Bowl
Ben Shpigel. 2/2/2018. “How the Eagles Followed the Numbers to the Super Bowl.” The New York Times. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The most illuminating moment of the Eagles’ enchanted season was a Week 3 play ridiculed in Philadelphia but celebrated here by a small cadre of people who recognized its significance almost immediately.

What fueled the excitement among members of the EdjSports crew was not the outcome of the play — a 6-yard sack of Carson Wentz on fourth-and-8 that gifted the Giants good field position — but rather the call itself. Leading by 7-0 on the Giants’ 43-yard line a few minutes before halftime, the Eagles opted not to punt.

By keeping Philadelphia’s offense on the field in a situation almost always played safe in the risk-averse N.F.L., Coach Doug Pederson did not buck conventional wisdom so much as roll his eyes at it.

An intern at EdjSports, responding to a flurry of text messages from his colleagues about the play, ran the numbers at home. The Eagles, by going for it, improved their probability of winning by 0.5 percent. Defending his decision (again) at a news conference the next day, Pederson cited that exact statistic.


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