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June 08, 2018

Congrats to the Washington Capitals (and all my D.C. colleagues) for capturing their first-ever Stanley Cup.

1 big thing: New tools to make AI more fair

 Rumman Chowdhury

Rumman Chowdhury leads Accenture's responsible AI efforts. Photo: Frances Denny

With computer algorithms being called on to make more and bigger decisions, a growing field has emerged to help ensure the models are fair and free of bias. Among the latest efforts is a new "fairness tool" that consulting giant Accenture is detailing at an AI conference next week.

Accenture is far from alone in trying to develop tools to remove bias from AI.

  • At F8, Facebook talked about Fairness Flow, a tool it says it's using to seek out biases for or against a particular group of people.
  • Recruiting startup Pymetrics developed Audit-AI to root out bias in its own algorithms for determining if a candidate is a good fit for a job. Now the company is releasing it as open source in hopes others may benefit.
"We believe that all creators of technology are responsible for creating the future that we want to live in. For us, that future is one that is bias-free.

Why it matters: AI is being used to make an increasing array of decisions from who gets parole to whether someone is offered a loan or job. But without rooting out bias in both training data and models, these algorithms risk simply codifying existing human misperceptions.

How it works: Accenture's tool looks at both the data used to train a model as well as the algorithm itself to see if there are any places where any particular group is being treated unfairly.

Origin story: Rumman Chowdhury, who leads responsible AI at Accenture Applied Intelligence, developed what became the fairness tool with the assistance of a study group of researchers at the Alan Turing Institute. The tool is being formally announced next week at CogX in London.

More people in the room: One of the benefits, Chowdhury said, is that you don't have to be an experienced coder to make use of the tool. That helps promote another important means of combating AI bias: making sure more people are part of the discussion.

"It’s a really good way to start incorporating different people into the AI development process, people who aren't necessarily data scientists," Chowdhury told Axios.

Yes, but: Chowdhury notes the fairness tool isn't a silver bullet. It works best on certain types of models, known as classification models, and needs fixed, rather than continuous, variables.

"I don't want people to think you can push a button and fix for fairness because you can’t," she said. "While this is one tool that certainly does help, it doesn’t solve for everything."

Also, correcting for bias can make an algorithm more fair, but sometimes at the expense of accuracy.

Go deeper: Another key component of ethical AI is transparency. Check out this article for more on the push to create AI that can show its work.

2. Chinese tech can't escape Communist Party

An illustration of Chinese characters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As we wrote yesterday, it’s always complicated when it comes to tech and China

That's especially true when trying to suss out the relationship between Chinese tech companies and the Chinese government. In a country with only one party, some ties are inevitable. That said, the Chinese government has a uniquely close relationship with its tech companies.

Erica Pandey has a close look at the biggest companies in China and the dynamics of interactions with the government.

The bottom line: The Chinese government gives its corporate champions nearly unfettered access to the country's 770 million internet users, but that comes with the fear that Chinese President Xi Jinping could make it disappear in an instant. And as China's tech companies get bigger and richer, the Communist Party gets more nervous.

Plus: ZTE is back! The U.S. government officially reached a deal with the Chinese telecom firm that will see it back in business, but only after replacing its board and management, paying a fortune in fines and agreeing to allow U.S. oversight. However a bipartisan group of senators is trying to undo the deal.

3. Uber and Lyft eye scooters in San Francisco

Uber wants to get into the scooter business in San Francisco and is submitting an application for the city's upcoming pilot program, the company confirmed to Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva on Thursday. Lyft also tells Axios that it's applied as well.

  • Last month, the city’s transportation agency announced the 12-month pilot program after scrambling to create rules and bring order to the Wild West of scooters.

Why it matters: Electric scooter services are all the rage, and after acquiring bike-sharing startup Jump in April, Uber wants to deploy them as part of its plans to provide a variety of transportation options to customers. Lyft has also shown interest in going beyond cars.

Competition: San Francisco's transportation agency will dole out up to five permits to scooter companies, so Uber and Lyft will be vying with scooter startups like Bird, Lime, and Spin.

  • Some of the startups, like Bird and Lime have raised a lot of capital, but it’ll be interesting to see whether operating in the city before it had rolled out regulation will cost them a shot at a permit.
  • And while Jump secured an exclusive permit for the city’s dockless bike-share program, its new parent company, Uber, and Lyft have years of friction with city officials.  

4. Verizon names Hans Vestberg CEO

Hans Vestberg

Hans Vestberg. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Verizon's chief technology officer, Hans Vestberg, has been named CEO, the company announced Friday.Vestberg joined the company last year after serving as CEO of network gear maker Ericsson.

The details: Vestberg will take over on August 1, succeeding Lowell McAdam, who has been in the role since August 1, 2011. McAdam will remain executive chairman until the end of the year and then become non-executive chairman.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Apple's WWDC wraps up in San Jose, Calif.
  • Computex continues through Saturday in Taipei.
  • The E3 video game industry trade show takes place next week in LA, but news will start coming in over the weekend. Here's a preview from TechCrunch.
  • The UN has designated today as World Oceans Day.

Trading Places

  • Former Eventbrite CEO Kevin Hartz has quietly stepped down as a partner at Founders Fund, according to Axios' Dan Primack.


6. After you Login

Check out the world's highest post office (and, no, it's not in Amsterdam. They are below sea level.)