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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New research offers strategies to prevent algorithms used in business from pushing unethical policies.

Why it matters: Machine-learning algorithms are increasingly being deployed in commercial settings. If they are optimized only to seek maximum revenue, they can end up treating customers in unethical ways, putting companies at reputational or even regulatory risk.

How it works: In a paper published on Wednesday in Royal Society Open Science, researchers formulated what they call the "Unethical Optimization Principle."

  • It essentially boils down to the idea that "if there is an advantage to something that will be perceived as unethical, then it is quite likely the machine learning is going to find it," says Robert MacKay, a mathematician at the University of Warwick and an author of the paper.
  • MacKay uses the example of an algorithm that prices insurance products. If it is optimized only to maximize revenue, it's likely to treat customers unfairly and even unlawfully, selecting a higher price for users whose names code as non-white.
  • In their paper, MacKay and his colleagues lay out complex mathematics that can help businesses and regulators detect the unethical strategies an algorithm might pursue in a given space and identify how the AI should be modified to prevent that behavior.

The big picture: As increasingly sophisticated algorithms take more decisions out of the hand of humans, it becomes even more important for programmers to set initial clear limits.

  • Unfortunately, as a new survey from the data science platform Anaconda demonstrates, while data scientists are increasingly concerned about the ethical implications of their work, 39% of those polled say their team has no plans in place to address fairness or bias.
  • "Businesses using algorithms need to ask questions of 'ought,' rather than just 'can,'" says Peter Wang, Anaconda's CEO.

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  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
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DOJ: Capitol rioter threatened to "assassinate" Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Supporters of former President Trump storm the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A Texas man who has been charged with storming the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 siege posted death threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Department of Justice said.

The big picture: Garret Miller faces five charges in connection to the riot by supporters of former President Trump, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and making threats. According to court documents, Miller posted violent threats online the day of the siege, including tweeting “Assassinate AOC.”

Schumer calls for IG probe into alleged plan by Trump, DOJ lawyer to oust acting AG

Jeffrey Clark speaks next to Deputy US Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at a news conference in October. Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP via Getty Images.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday called for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate an alleged plan by former President Trump and a DOJ lawyer to remove the acting attorney general and replace him with someone more willing to investigate unfounded claims of election fraud.

Driving the news: The New York Times first reported Friday that the lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, allegedly devised "ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. [Jeffrey] Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. Trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark."