Hayden Field, a technology journalist at Morning Brew, published a series of articles about algorithms and AI earlier this year, and they’ve been on my TBR list.
First up was Nine Experts on the Single Biggest Obstacle Facing AI and Algorithms in the Next Five Years. Experts: Drago Anguelov (Waymo); Kathy Baxter (Salesforce); David Cox (IBM Watson); Natasha Crampton (Microsoft); Mark Diaz (Ethical AI at Google); Charles Isbell (professor and dean, College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology); Peter Lofgren (Stripe); Andrew Ng (co-founder and former head, Google Brain); Cathy O’Neil (author, Weapons of Math Destruction).
Predictably, ethics was noted as a big challenge — O’Neil asked what we will do about unfairness in decisions made by algorithms. Diaz pointed to the need for involving “experts from a wide range of disciplines, including non-technical disciplines,” in the development process, long before an end product emerges. This intersects with ethics and fairness, as the absence of experts and stakeholders opens the door wide to omissions and errors. Baxter was explicit about systemic racism that is embedded in both training data and models. She listed “medical care decisions, hiring recommendations, access to housing and social programs, visa application approvals, school exam results, hate speech detection, dynamic pricing algorithms for ride hailing services, and even dating apps” — as well as face recognition and predictive policing.
“In essence, problems that are not purely technical require solutions that are not purely technical.”—Mark Diaz, Ethical AI at Google
Isbell spoke of systematic solutions that can be widely applied. “We cannot treat minority groups as exceptions and edge cases,” he said. Cox highlighted transparency and explainability, as well as ethics and bias. He also alluded to adversarial attacks as well as the non-adversarial errors that surprise researchers (possibly due to overfitting). He grouped all this under trust. Crampton also focused on fairness and referred to diversity in teams, similar to Diaz’s and Isbell’s concerns.
Anguelov explained the need for reliable simulations so that systems can scale up to real-world use. He’s talking about the Long Tail problem: the real world throws up too many unexpected situations. Simulations allow testing in ways that don’t risk human lives (think self-driving cars). Lofgren also talked about scale, but in terms of personalization — his example is detecting credit card fraud in real-time based on Big Data that detects abusing IP addresses and then drills down to the individual cards being used. Ng talked about the difficulty in making dependable commercial AI products — basically off-the-shelf solutions.
“We will often need to make hard decisions based on competing priorities, including decisions to not build or deploy a system for certain purposes.”—Natasha Crampton, Microsoft
Second in the series is titled Amex’s Fraud Detection AI Was Ready to Go Live. Then Covid Hit. This article starts with the idea that large AI models in the field will still need adjustments as unforeseen problems crop up. This echos the concerns about scale raised by Anguelov and Lofgren in the first article in the series.
The challenge thrown by COVID-19 was that all existing models had been developed and adjusted in a non-pandemic world. Then the world changed.
Amex’s fraud-detecting systems are a blend of old-school rule-based systems and newer machine learning techniques. A team of about 30 decision scientists monitors the system round-the-clock and updates it when necessary, at least once a year. The pandemic came at a bad time for Amex, just as they were rolling out a new model.
“Since each generation of a gradient-boosting ML model is typically developed on data from earlier that same year, many of the model’s assumptions no longer made sense” in 2020.—”Amex’s Fraud Detection AI Was Ready to Go Live. Then Covid Hit”
This is a really interesting article — although I’d read others about issues caused for AI models by pandemic changes, most of those had to do with either healthcare or travel.
Because of increased online traffic in 2020 — more people online, every day, as the pandemic drove work-from-home and stay-at-home schooling — demands on Amazon Web Services (providing servers and processing power to millions of commercial clients such as Amex) grew enormously. This “dwindling cloud capacity” meant testing new solutions for Amex’s model took much longer than usual. The team had to run new simulations that took our new way of life into account, and those simulations required lots of processor juice.
In the end, Amex’s rollout was successful — but it came months later than originally planned. This was a really neat case study and could be discussed in a lot of different contexts.
I’m going to look at the other articles in the series in tomorrow’s post.
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