PARIS — When Amazon realized that its AI recruiting tool favored men, the company quickly shelved it. Back in 2016, a chatbot released by Microsoft turned into a sex-obsessed neo-Nazi machine in only 24 hours. These incidents, along with others, played right into the hands of all those who say there is too much AI in our daily lives.
But some researchers are looking at things from a different perspective: if AI makes such mistakes, it's because it has been taught that way. That means we can also teach it to avoid such mistakes. How? By tracking down all the biases contained in the data the AI is fed when it learns.
Said data is only the result of our own biases, which have been at play for a long time. They are easy to find: consider the number of simultaneous appearances of "woman" and "nurse" in the same text compared to a possible proximity with "doctor." It's easy to imagine that computer scientists will be often referred to in masculine terms or close to the word "man." But there is more: Does anybody know, for example, that the error rate for facial recognition can reach 35% for women with black skin, compared to 0.8% for men with fair skin?
We are the ones who teach the machines to be biased.
All this is due to the body of initial data available to train AI algorithms. The data available is AI's Achilles heel. For example, social networks provide an abundant and cheap source of data. But the presence of fake news, hate speech and general contempt towards minorities and women that can be found there doesn't bode well for AIs.
An experiment conducted on Twitter by a researcher at Swinburne University revealed that negative feelings were most often expressed against female leaders rather than male leaders.
Here's another experiment we can all make. Just enter the keyword "president" or "prime minister" on Google Images: men are over-represented by 95%. But it's not Google's fault.
Biases can also be found elsewhere: Has anybody ever wondered why voice assistants or customer contacts in call centers, when they are handled by robots, have reassuring female voices?
It's true, studies show that men and women prefer a female voice to speak to them. It's more reassuring. It's maternal. When you look at it closely, this preference becomes more refined, though not in the right direction: We prefer a male voice to talk to us about computers or cars, and a female voice for all things interpersonal.
AI learns its racial bias from its creators — Photo: Abyssus
Recently, manufacturers of intelligent automated personal assistants and connected speakers have adapted their algorithms to show less patience with the rude and harassing nature of users who sometimes vent their frustrations against machines. The thinking behind it is to try and avoid people venting against women on the street, because they have become too disinhibited by their experience with machines.
Amazon has reprogrammed Alexa to answer questions with an explicit sexual nature in a curt fashion. Google Home, meanwhile, has introduced the "Pretty Please" function, which adapts to the kind or unkind tone with which a user addresses it.
But Google Home has no conscience nor personality: It doesn't actually care whether it's talked to politely or not. Are you, at the end of the day, polite with your washing machine? Probably not always, especially when it's broken. But it could affect the machine's learning process. A user would only moderately appreciate it if his smart speaker only talked to him harshly.
Apple also offers its own Siri assistant in several versions: female or male voice, with different English accents. The voice still remains by default female, but we note that it can be male by default for Arabic, French, Dutch, and English (one wonders why).
Artificial intelligence has no bias like us.
It's not enough to talk with different accents. Personal assistants and smart speakers need to understand everyone.
To do this, the companies that design them rely on a corpus of audio clips, speeches, and more. It's easy to imagine that some groups in society are under-represented, such as low-income, rural, lower social classes that use the Internet less. Obviously, you're not going to find them in the corpus.
One of these corpora, Fischer's corpus, contains speeches by people whose mother tongue is not English, but we immediately see that they are under-represented. More amusingly, maybe, Spanish and Indian accents are already a little more represented than the various accents within Great Britain.
Artificial intelligence has no bias like us. We are the ones who teach the machines to be biased. The World Economic Forum believes that it will take until the next century to achieve true gender equality. Chances are that with AI, we might have to wait even longer.
*Charles Cuvelliez is a lecturer at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and director of the Brussels School of Engineering.
Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.
[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]
A dove from Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida tough enough to lead Japan?
Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.
When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.
Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."
Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.
After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.
A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.
Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.
However, after failing three times the entrance exam, Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.
After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:
"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."
According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.
In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.
In September 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.
But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years.
When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.
Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.
Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.
So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.
— Daisuke Kondo / Economic Observer
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.
• Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.
• COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.
• Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."
• First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.
• China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."• Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.
📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.
📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."
— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.
📸 PHOTO DU JOUR
Fumigation is used as a precautionary measure against the spread of dengue disease in New Delhi, India, where more than 1,000 cases have been reported — Photo: Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! - firstname.lastname@example.org
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