All posts tagged bots

As of this week, I have a new article in the July-August 2023 Special Issue of American Scientist Magazine. It’s called “Bias Optimizers,” and it’s all about the problems and potential remedies of and for GPT-type tools and other “A.I.”

This article picks up and expands on thoughts started in “The ‘P’ Stands for Pre-Trained” and in a few threads on the socials, as well as touching on some of my comments quoted here, about the use of chatbots and “A.I.” in medicine.

I’m particularly proud of the two intro grafs:

Recently, I learned that men can sometimes be nurses and secretaries, but women can never be doctors or presidents. I also learned that Black people are more likely to owe money than to have it owed to them. And I learned that if you need disability assistance, you’ll get more of it if you live in a facility than if you receive care at home.

At least, that is what I would believe if I accepted the sexist, racist, and misleading ableist pronouncements from today’s new artificial intelligence systems. It has been less than a year since OpenAI released ChatGPT, and mere months since its GPT-4 update and Google’s release of a competing AI chatbot, Bard. The creators of these systems promise they will make our lives easier, removing drudge work such as writing emails, filling out forms, and even writing code. But the bias programmed into these systems threatens to spread more prejudice into the world. AI-facilitated biases can affect who gets hired for what jobs, who gets believed as an expert in their field, and who is more likely to be targeted and prosecuted by police.

As you probably well know, I’ve been thinking about the ethical, epistemological, and social implications of GPT-type tools and “A.I.” in general for quite a while now, and I’m so grateful to the team at American Scientist for the opportunity to discuss all of those things with such a broad and frankly crucial audience.

I hope you enjoy it.

So I’m quoted in this article in The Atlantic on the use of technology in leveraging sociological dynamics to combat online harassment: “Why Online Allies Matter in Fighting Harassment.”

An experiment by Kevin Munger used bots to test which groups white men responded to when being called out on their racist harassment online. Findings largely unsurprising (Powerful white men; they responded favourably to powerful white men), save for the fact that anonimity INCREASED effectiveness of treatment, and visible identity decreased it. That one was weird. But it’s still nice to see all of this codified.

Good to see use of Bertrand & Mullainathan’s “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” as the idea of using “Black Sounding Names” to signal purported ethnicity of bot thus clearly models what he thought those he expected to be racist would think, rather than indicating his own belief. (However, it could be asked whether there’s a meaningful difference, here, as he still had to choose the names he thought would “sound black.”)

The Reactance study Munger discusses—the one that shows that people double down on factually incorrect prejudices—is the same one I used in “On The Invisible Architecture of Bias

A few things Ed Yong and I talked about that didn’t get into the article, due to space:

-Would like to see this experimental model applied to other forms of prejudice (racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc language), and was thus very glad to see the footnote about misogynist harassment.

-I take some exception to the use of Dovidio/Gaertner and Crandall et al definitions of racism, as those leave out the sociological aspects of power dynamics (“Racism/Sexism/Homophobia/Transphobia/Ableism= Prejudice + Power”) which seem crucial to understanding the findings of Munger’s experiment. He skirts close to this when he discusses the greater impact of “high status” individuals, but misses the opportunity to lay out the fact that:
–Institutionalised power dynamics as related to the interplay of in-group and out-group behaviour are pretty clearly going to affect why white people are more likely to listen to those they perceive as powerful white men, because
–The interplay of Power and status, interpersonally, is directly related to power and status institutionally.

-Deindividuation (loss of sense of self in favour of group identity) as a key factor and potential solution is very interesting.

Something we didn’t get to talk about but which I think is very important is the question of how we keep this from being used as a handbook. That is, what do we do in the face of people understand these mechanisms and who wish to use them to sow division and increase acceptance of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc ideals? Do we, then, become engaged in some kind of rolling arms race of sociological pressure?

…Which, I guess, has pretty much always been true, and we call it “civilization.”

Anyway, hope you enjoy it.