On November 10th, the dhCenter UNIL-EPFL, in collaboration with the EPFL School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC) and the College of Humanities (CDH), will host Jenna Burrell, Professor at UC Berkeley and interim Director of Research at Data & Society. The presentation is entitled “What comes next? After algorithmic fairness”.
Recent interest in ethical AI has brought a slew of values, including fairness, into conversations about technology design. Research in the area of algorithmic fairness tends to be rooted in questions of distribution that are appealing and tractable. They can be precisely formalized and implemented in computer code.
In collaborative dialogue with colleagues and students over the past couple of years, Burrell has been working on an alternative argument, putting human autonomy and control at the center of conversations about algorithmic justice. To offer some grounding for this argument, she has carried out research using Twitter data. Her research team found that Twitter users who seek a measure of control over the platform’s algorithms do so for a variety of reasons, and their strategies often had social utility. Such efforts are often dismissed by platform owners as “gaming” the algorithms.
Burrell joins many voices that are now calling for incorporating participation into all of the stages of algorithmic system design and deployment. By amplifying automation discourses or the notion of benevolent guidance via algorithms (without the counterpressure of broad participation by human stakeholders) we run the risk not of rule by robots, but rather a consolidation of power into the hands of a ‘coding elite.’
About Jenna Burrell
Jenna Burrell is interim Director of Research at Data & Society a non-profit research institute and a Professor at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley. Her research focuses on how communities in the margins adapt digital technologies to meet their needs and to pursue their goals and ideals. At Berkeley, she established the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Group (AFOG) which brings together faculty and students from across the UC-Berkeley campus to facilitate research on how algorithmic systems can be designed, used, or regulated to support more equitable and just societies. Burrell is the author of Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana (MIT Press) and is currently writing up her research findings from a multi-year project about rural communities that host critical internet infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables and data centers. She earned a PhD in Sociology from the London School of Economics and a BA in Computer Science from Cornell University.