AI and Algorithms Are Not That Smart and Could be Dangerous without Supervision

Little Rock Artificial intelligence or AI, as people are starting to call it fairly routinely, and the algorithms that crowd around us everywhere, are muscling into every part of our lives in ways we don’t clearly understand, but that increasingly demand our attention. We are making a mistake by relaxing our concentration and relying on them without caution and careful observation.

Let me give some examples.

In Greenville, Mississippi the other day before a meeting we were chatting about computers and how we depended on them. My friend argued that if he wasn’t working, he would have a flip phone still, rather than a smartphone. He then told me a story both hilarious and frightening. One of his grandnephews had passed away as a teenager of cancer. He was talking to a much young grandnephew and trying to both console and counsel him. His nephew had asked him why his cousin had died. My friend explained cancer and in brief the search for a cure, and ended by saying perhaps his nephew would end up becoming a doctor and helping find the cure when he grew up. The boy nodded as he listened, and then looked at his uncle and said, “Maybe so, but if not, I’ll ask Siri for help.” Siri is of course the robotron voice on Apple devices. We both laughed hard, but the other thing at work was how much the young boy already depended on this detached AI voice for his way forward.

Of course Amazon and Facebook are headline news example of shortcuts and greed failing to supervise their algorithms. Facebook of course is having to explain how its vaunted AI and algorithms allowed people to search out racist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic folks to be their hater buddies. A report by Pro Publica pulled their tail, and CFO Sandy “Lean-In” Sandburg drew the straw to go public on this by saying she was personally offended by it, but leaving the nagging question of why they had to be told this was a problem and didn’t know already? Oh, and of course they also allowed Russian fronts to create fake groups as long as they paid them $150,000 so that there was no nevermind. Amazon makes billions by tooling its algorithm so that when you buy item x, they will suggest that people who buy x, also usually by y and z with it. Someone had to pull their sleeve about the fact that their algorithm was helping people build bombs by linking the needed elements together. Whoops – bang!

Interviewing Edward Hess of the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia about his new book, Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age on Wade’s World on KABF makes all of this seem like child’s play. He wants to trigger a conversation by business, policy makers, and the rest of us about the tech revolution that is coming from these same directions. He argued that the job displacement would be many factors more than we saw in the Great Depression and that the impact would dwarf the Industrial Revolution when it took 60 to 80 years to recover the jobs. This is a revolution that takes the breath away once we start twisting our worry beads. His advice was start retraining yourself today because everyone from bottom to the top professionals could find themselves in the unemployment line without new skills.

I’m already running as fast as my legs can carry me just trying to keep up, but all of this is a warning to pay attention, ask hard questions even of the robots, and start planning your own survival strategy.


Race and Income? Rich, White People See No Problems

Little Rock   According to researchers at Yale University, it’s the old story with a twist. It’s not “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” but “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak all evil,” at least when it comes to creating a mental dreamscape for the rich and most white Americans when it comes to understanding the persistent gap in economic progress for African-Americans.

A new study published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal by Yale researchers finds that people, especially wealthier, white people have convinced themselves that African-Americans are making great progress over recent decades in narrowing the economic divide created by years of discrimination. The researchers found that across all groups in their study the progress made by African-Americans was overestimated by 25%. Lower income whites came closest to understanding the gap still persisted, and wealthier whites missed the reality by the largest margin. All this in the words of the lead researcher, Professor Jennifer Richeson, was “shocking,” because it was so at odds with reality, because in their view, how can you solve a problem, if you are in denial that the problem even exists.

All of this comes in the wake of recently released Census Reports based on the true facts rather than the alternative reality being seen from above with rose-colored glasses. The US Census finds that African-Americans are the only group that has not made progress since 2000, even as others have advanced. Furthermore, the federal figures indicate that African-Americans are pretty much in the same place on the economic divide measure inequality as they were 50 years ago.

Describing the impact of the disconnect between what whites and the more wealthy think of progress, Richeson described the self-delusion this way:

So many of us grew up hearing this story about America that basically said there was slavery and then that was fixed. Martin Luther King marched and then that was fixed. And then we had Obama. That’s a nice, clean story that makes everyone feel good even though it’s shockingly inaccurate.

The researchers found that the myth of an American meritocracy was most delusional among the wealthiest Americans who want to believe that their success, wealth and position in society is based on something they earned, rather than privilege and advantage, especially if achieved as the result of de facto discrimination. Yet the facts of the Census indicate that African-Americans only gained $5 of citizen wealth for every $100 gained by other groups.

Meanwhile as the researchers observe, and our own daily lives and work establish every day, persistent discrimination in bank lending, housing and educational segregation have no effective policy or programmatic cures, so the inequality widens, rather than shrinking even as the economy improves. The crisis is exacerbated when we also consider their average survey gap would have departed reality to an even more distant white people planet, if the current occupants of the White House and Congress had been among the survey groups.