The problem with AI bias

Ai has come a long way. Just after WW2, there was a preconception that developing Artificial Intelligence would lead to something like an ‘Attack of the Zombie Robots’, and that AI could only be a bad thing for humanity. Fortunately we have come a long way from the old sci-fi view of AI, and we even have robotics used in surgery, but there is still a lingering feeling that AI and robotics are threatening in some way, and one of those ways is ‘bias’.

AI is very much part of the fourth industrial revolution, which also includes cyber-physical systems powered by technologies like machine learning, blockchain, genome editing and decentralised governance. The challenges that we face in developing our use of AI, are tricky ethical ones for the most part, which need a sensitive approach.

So, what is the issue? As James Warner writes in his article on AI and bias,

“AI is aiding the decision making from all walks of life. But, the point is that the foundation of AI is laid by the way humans function.” And as we all know — humans have bias, unfortunately. Warner says, “It is the result of a mandatory limited view of the world that any single person or group can achieve. This social bias just as it reflects in humans in sensitive areas can also reflect in artificial intelligence.”

And this human bias, as it cascades down into AI can be dangerous to you and me. For example, Warner writes: “the investigative news site Pro Publica found that a criminal justice algorithm used in Florida mislabelled African American defendants as high risk. This was at twice the rate it mislabelled white defendants.” Facial recognition has already been highlighted as an area with shocking ethnic bias, as well as recognition errors.

IBM suggests that researchers are quickly learning how to handle human bias as it infiltrates AI. It has said that researchers are learning to deal with this bias and coming up with new solutions that control and finally free AI systems out of bias.

The ways in which bias can creep in are numerous, but researchers are developing algorithms that can assist with detecting and mitigating hidden biases in the data. Furthermore, scientists at IBM have devised an independent bias rating system with the ability to determine the fairness of an AI system.

One outcome of all this may be that we discover more about how human biases are formed and how we apply them throughout our lives. Some biases are obvious to us, but others tend to sneak around unnoticed, until somebody else points it out. Perhaps we will find that AI can teach us how to handle a variety of biased opinions, and be more fair ourselves.

What has the Internet of Things changed?

First of all, let me give you a definition of the Internet of Things. Wikipedia describes it thus: “The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”

The IoT has a lot of applications, including the smart home and care of the elderly, as well as in healthcare, transport, manufacturing and agriculture, as well as on military battlefields. The ‘smart city’ is another IoT driven creation. Drones are an IoT baby, as are some of the latest artificial organs. The possibilities are seemingly endless, but let’s take a look at some of the areas where it has already had an impact.

Healthcare

The Proteus Pill tracks the influence of each pill taken: the time, the content, and a body’s specific reaction. It allows doctors to discover which medications work, or don’t, with individual patients, making for more accurate prescribing.

Logistics

International courier company DHL uses IoT tools to track and monitor deliveries. It uses sensors to track shipment containers, protect them, and collect data on workers and the adopted tools. In return, the company is more efficient and costs are reduced.

Transport

Virgin Atlantic launched and IoT connection with its Boeing 787 plane to predict possible health and equipment problems and improve flight safety. It shouldn’t be too long before other airlines adopt it.

Agriculture

Drones have great potential in agriculture, and they are the most multifunctional and reliable Internet of Things technologies. In particular, they are capable of taking pictures of huge areas of land, and can analyse soil composition and watering problems, as well as detecting plant diseases. Some believe that the use of IoT in agriculture will be one of its most important uses.

Education

Smart learning is on its way thanks to IoT. From adjusting the space within a university campus to creating a personalized study plan, IoT in combination with AI and machine learning changes the level of satisfaction with learning significantly.

Wildlife Conservation

LionGuardians is an example of IoT at work in nature. Its technology is an open source wildlife tracking collar system designed specifically for saving animals threatened with extinction. Currently being used in southern Kenya, it is hoping to protect and save 2,000 lions left in the area — by tracking their location and sending notifications to coordinators via SMS in case assistance is needed.

Cities

The Smart City is another fascinating use of IoT. Barcelona is already on board with it and has 500 km of optical fibre network, Wi-Fi routed in street lighting, air quality monitoring and water consumption sensors, smart parking and smart waste management. It makes life more comfortable for citizens and more cost effective as well.

The IoT is already changing our world, and it has much further to go.

What is the point of a robot tax?

While browsing articles on Artificial Intelligence, I stumbled across a piece by Milton Ezrati at Forbes. Discussing the possibility of a robot tax? This idea had been proposed by Bill de Blasio before he gave up his bid to gain the Democratic presidential nomination. Ezrati thinks it is a dreadful idea, but he is aware that both Silicon Valley leaders and current government progressives are quite keen on it.

According to the article, a robot tax would have four parts: First, it would apply to any company introducing labour saving automation. Second, it would insist that this employer either find new jobs for the displaced workers at their same pay level or pay them a severance. Third, the tax would require a new federal agency, the Federal Automation and Worker Protection Agency (FAWPA) and fourth, it would require Washington eliminate all tax incentives for any innovation that leads to automation.

The assumption appears to be that workers displaced by automation will never again find work at a comparable wage. Elon Musk for one, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are amongst those who are worried about this aspect of it, as is Democratic candidate, Andrew Yang, who suggests the introduction of a universal basic income, “to substitute, he claims, for the incomes lost to robots and artificial intelligence generally.”

However, it is not proven that the introduction of AI and robots will disadvantage workers so substantially. As Ezrati say, “innovation, if it initially displaces some workers, always eventually creates many more new jobs even as it boosts overall productivity and increases output.”

And, as he also points out, “since the industrial revolution began more than 250 years ago, business and industry have actively applied wave after wave of innovation and yet economies have nonetheless continued to employ on average some 95 percent of those who want to work.”

In my opinion, and in this respect I am in agreement with Ezrati, we have focused far too much on what will be lost with the introduction of more robotics, and not sufficiently on what is to be gained. His analogy that uses the introduction of email and the Internet regarding typists’ jobs illustrates this. Whilst those working in admin, messenger departments and typing pools no longer had their current job, new forms of employment emerged for them.

Similarly, when the introduction of automatic teller machines threatened to throw thousands of bank clerks out of work, the machines created profits that meant they could employ more tellers, and these tellers, with the assistance of different technologies, could do more interesting, complex, and valuable jobs at higher pay than they received before the ATMs were put in place.

A robot tax would be counter-productive and stunt growth in innovation, hampering the possibility of finding new types of jobs and improving living standards. It’s a proposed tax that simply doesn’t make sense.

Data for sale on eBay

When eBay launched it became the go-to place for buying electrical items at vastly reduced prices, amongst other things. Its auction bidding style provided an element of excitement where the user could become a ‘winner’ by making the best bid. Counting down the hours and minutes until the sale closed could be a nail-biting affair.

Since then eBay has vastly expanded the range of items for sale and it is a marketplace where any individual can set up their stall. Now something rather interesting about eBay has come to light, according to a Forbes article; around 42% of the hard drives sold on the site contain sensitive data.

The analysis came via Ontrack research for a Blanco Technology Group report. It revealed that hard drives bought in the USA, UK, Germany and Finland contained sensitive data as well as personal information.

Birth certificates, passports and more

The researchers spoke to sellers, all of whom claimed they had used proper “data sanitisation methods” to ensure no data remained on the drives. The report showed this was clearly untrue. It showed, “One drive belonged to a software developer “with a high level of government security clearance” that still contained scanned images of family passports and birth certificates along with financial records.” And they also found,” a drive with 5GB of archived internal office email from a major travel company, 3GB of data from a freight company including documents that detailed shipping schedules and truck registrations, university student papers and associated email addresses and school data that was comprised of photos and documents with pupil names and grades.”

Fredrik Forslund, vice-president of cloud and data erasure at Blanco remarked on the situation: “Selling old hardware via an online marketplace might feel like a good option, but in reality it creates a serious risk of exposing dangerous levels of personal data.”

This is not a case of widespread data theft, or intent to damage a specific business. For criminals to benefit from this information, they would have to buy a lot of hard drives and even then they cannot be sure what data they will get, or indeed if there is any on the hard drive.

But Tim Erlin, vice-president of product management and strategy at Tripwire, warns that although this might make it seem as if there isn’t a problem, “it might lower the concern, but it shouldn’t eliminate it.”

How to avoid selling data on eBay

Getting rid of a hard drive requires care and any business should have a process in place for removing any sensitive data. Old processes, such as using magnets are outmoded, and Solid State Drives (SSDs) require a different approach altogether. Tim Mackey, senior technical evangelist at Synopsys suggests that in order to ensure certainty data cannot be recovered, physically destroying, or shredding, the drive is the answer.

It is likely that large organisations have the systems in place to perform this kind of data sanitisation effectively, but small and mediums sized businesses may not. And it is likely that the majority of the hard drives for sale on eBay come from those businesses who see selling old hard drives on the site as a way to recoup some money.

We need to be more aware than ever of the value of data and the importance of data security. If you are getting rid of a hard drive connected to business use, ensure it is properly destroyed and that you have confirmation of its destruction. Don’t let it end up on eBay where you have no idea who might find that it still contains valuable information.