Lifestream, Diigo: The need for algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight grows | Pew Research Center

from Diigo

I posted a link to the complete Pew Research Report (Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age) a few weeks back (March 11). This week, while thinking about my final assignment for Education and Digital Cultures, I returned to Theme 7: The need grows for algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight.

While the respondents make a great deal of both interesting and important points about concerns that need to be addressed at a societal level – for example, managing accountability (or the dissolution thereof) and transparency of algorithms, avoiding centralized execution of bureaucratic reason/including checks and balances within the centralization enabled by algorithms – there were also points raised that need to be addressed at an educational level. Specifically, Justin Reich from MIT Teaching Systems Lab suggests that ‘those who design algorithms should be trained in ethics’, and Glen Ricart argues that there is a need for people to understand how algorithms affect them and for people to be able to personalize the algorithms they use. In the longer term, Reich’s point doesn’t seem to be limited to those studying computer science subjects, in that, if, as predicted elsewhere (theme 1) in the same report, algorithms continue to spread, more individuals will presumably be involved in their creation as a routine part of their profession (rather than their creation being reserved for computer scientists/programmers/etc.). Also, as computer science is ‘rolled out’ in primary and secondary schools, it makes sense that the study of (related) ethics ought to be a part of the curriculum at those levels also. Further, Ricart implies, in the first instance, that algorithmic literacy needs to be integrated into more general literacy/digital literacy instruction, and in the second, that all students will need to develop computational thinking and the ability to modify algorithms through code (unless black-boxed tool kits are provided to enable people to do this without coding per se, in the same way the Weebly enables people to build websites without writing code).


Lifestream, Tweets

More on the ethics of netnography. In this slide presentation, Kozinets highlights the difficulty of separating text and data from the person who generated it and asserts that, therefore, online research has to be considered research of human subjects rather than research of social space, and relevant ethical standards applied. Such considerations include attending to the possibility of ‘decloaking’ or ‘cracking’ anonymised data.

In conversation with my brother, who works in digital health research, over the last week, he suggested that a core problem is that many of the people involved in collecting data are unaware of how to crack anonymised data, and therefore underestimate the risk of this. Protecting privacy is complicated.

Week 2 Summary

Week two has primarily been focused on the ethical concerns of new technologies. A paper by Amy DeBaets (2011) led me to a greater understanding of how transhumanist perspectives sit across the political spectrum. It was interesting to learn that it is quite possible to be technologically progressive but politically (economically) conservative. Introspection of moral imperatives continued through analysis of Ghost in the Shell, review of discussion between Joi Ito, Scott Dadich and Barack Obama on the moral programming decisions of self-driving cars, and the cultural implications of ‘perfect’ female robots for human female body image. I explored the ethical discomfort further through examination of robot use in Japan, and my subsequent reading of Jenniffer Robbinson’s article on Human Rights vs Robot rights.

Lifestream feeds this week were primarily concentrated upon building community. I’ve been there for peers, offering to test IFTTT streams – it’s strange to see because generally I see myself as less technologically able. I do seem to be able to troubleshoot, mind..  a core educational area in the press this week.

What is clear this week is that technology is not separate from culture. The influence is two ways, and we do need to be proactive in the decisions we make about which technology to use in education. Always, we need to ask.. is there a purpose? What are the consequences? No technology for technology’s sake.

Ethics in the age of androids and cyborgs

This week I’ve thus far been fairly focused on the ethical implications of technological advancement. I posted previously about the 1995 anime, Ghost in the Shell, but I spoke in quite general terms about the themes. Today, let’s take a closer look at a couple of scenes:

    Motoko & Batou pass judgement on the Garbage Collector (Ghost in the Shell, 1995)

This clip [1m12, from 23 minutes into the film] shows the capture of the Garbage Collector, and the reactions of Motoko and her second in command, Batou. Motoko seems to almost spit out her questions, “Can you remember your mother’s name or what she looks like? Or how about where you were born? Don’t you have any happy childhood memories? Do you even know who you are?” Her reference to memory as indicative of identity parallels Blade Runner – but it is the viciousness of her questioning which intrigues me from an ethics perspective. The Garbage Collector was human, but has had his ‘ghost’ (consciousness or soul) hacked. Yet somehow it is his fault: “Ghost hacked humans are so pathetic,” says Batou. It seems like an attack on a victim (What were you thinking wearing that skirt? Drinking? Were you asking for it?).

Screenshot from the 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell

In this clip [2m30, from 47m25 into the film] the Puppetmaster, a non-human who has hacked a cyborg, asks for asylum in section 9, raising questions about what it is that differentiates man and machine:

Puppet Master: What you are now witnessing is an action of my own free will. As a sentient life form, I hereby demand political asylum.

Chief Aramaki: Is this a joke?

Nakamura: Ridiculous! It’s programmed for self-preservation!

Puppet Master: It can also be argued that DNA is nothing more than a program designed to preserve itself. Life has become more complex in the overwhelming sea of information. And life, when organized into species, relies upon genes to be its memory system. So man is an individual only because of his intangible memory. But memory cannot be defined, yet it defines mankind. The advent of computers and the subsequent accumulation of incalculable data has given rise to a new system of memory and thought, parallel to your own. Humanity has underestimated the consequences of computerization.

Nakamura: Nonsense! This babble is no proof at all that you’re a living, thinking life form!

Puppet Master: And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?

Chief Aramaki: Who the hell is this?

Nakamura: Even if you do have a Ghost, we don’t offer freedom to criminals! It’s the wrong place and time to defect.

Puppet Master: Time has been on my side, but by acquiring a body, I am now subject to the possibility of dying. Fortunately, there is no death sentence in this country.

[quotes from wikiquote]

Of course, Ghost in the Shell is fictional, and the notion that we could achieve a state of technological advancement wherein it was possible to upload human consciousness to a machine, or for a machine to develop consciousness (singularity) remains questionable, even amid claims that the first head transplant could occur in the UK in 2017. Yet we are already at a stage where we need to think of the ethics involved in the decisions that machines make, as the previous posts/feed on self-driving cars has indicated. Beyond that, what of the rights of machines should they gain consciousness? On our screens we see their fates played out desperately (Westworld, for example), or alternatively, our own fate is portrayed as under threat (by Stephen Hawking, for example).

If humans are to be accorded different, more privileged rights than machines, they need to actually behave differently to them. Perhaps the increasingly human likeness of some machines is a call to bolster our own humanity, through empathy and the like, so as to truly differentiate ourselves from machines. Thoughts?