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Computers that learn words from texts written by humans capture their meaning but also our biases, a new study shows.

Why it matters: Machine learning is being eyed to sift through resumes in an effort to reduce discrimination in hiring, analyze loan applications and to predict criminal behavior while reducing racial profiling. The unintended biases found in artificial intelligence raise ethical questions about whether and how to deploy the technology without reinforcing stereotypes. (See Exhibit A, the racist Microsoft bot.)

How it works: The researchers created a test for how closely the AI associates different words and uncovered gender and racial biases similar to those of humans that are well-known from psychological studies. They found that European-American names were more closely associated with pleasant words (honest, gentle, happy) whereas unpleasant words (divorce, filth, jail) were more likely to be attributed to African-American names. Young people were considered pleasant, old people were not. They then looked at gender bias and found the AI associated women more so than men with family and the arts than with mathematics.

Thought bubble: Context provides bias but also meaning. How much bias can be removed before that meaning is lost?

The study authors don't recommend untraining the machine because of the risk of removing crucial knowledge about the world. "Artificial intelligence learns biases but it needs the awareness not to make prejudiced decisions. Since machines do possess self-awareness the way humans do, a human in the loop can help machines make ethical decisions," says Princeton's Aylin Caliskan.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
9 mins ago - Economy & Business

Miami mayor: Bitcoin's appeal is that governments can't manipulate it

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is pushing to make bitcoin a part of his city's economic future, and in an interview with "Axios on HBO," he pushed back against the economic orthodoxy of people like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen who say it's a bad idea.

Why it matters: Miami's inclusion of bitcoin as a way to pay city employees or as part of the city's emergency cash holdings, as Suarez has proposed, would add legitimacy to the cryptocurrency and further entrench it in the U.S. economic system.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
10 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Miami mayor acknowledges Big Tech plans could hurt the city's poor

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez's ambitions to attract Big Tech has generated a lot of headlines — but it will likely come with some negative impacts for current residents, for which the mayor admits there may not be solutions.

What he's saying: "Gentrification is real," Suarez told "Axios on HBO." But even with his efforts to promote affordable housing, he argues that "government has a limited amount of resources and a limited amount of ability to stop things that are market driven."

Trump's assault on Chinese tech left loose ends galore

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump's haphazard war on Chinese tech has left the Biden administration with a raft of unfinished business involving efforts to restrict Chinese firms and products in U.S. markets.

Why it matters: The Chinese and American tech industries are joined at the hip in many ways, and that interdependence has shaped decades of prosperity. But now security concerns and economic rivalries are wrenching them apart.

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