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Data Ethics: New Challenges For An Old Problem

Is it right to warn people when an algorithm predicts they are likely to commit a crime? Should the use of a facial recognition artificial intelligence tool that identifies people as gay be banned? Is it right for a visa application screening tool to be used before it can be certified as not containing racial bias?

Should children be removed from families when a data analytics tool suggests they are at risk of suffering abuse and neglect even though they have not suffered yet? What notice should a judge take of a machine prediction that someone will offend while on bail, even when their gut instinct tells her that he will not?

Welcome to the challenges of use of data analytics applications by governments. Dr. Nicholas Agar, an internationally renowned data ethicist from Victoria University has joined forces with one of the world’s leading universities, to design an intensive program on data ethics and algorithmic governance.

Dr. Agar said, “Public officials need to work from a robust data ethics model if they’re to properly support their elected leaders through the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Working with Carnegie Mellon University Australia, we have designed an executive education program that injects discipline into the thought processes needed for ethical use of such tools. I’m delighted that Dr. Craig Jones, Stats NZ Deputy Chief Executive for Data System Leadership has agreed to speak at the program.”

Governments’ experience with their use of data analytics tools so far has had mixed results. There have been many successes, but the number of failures is growing rapidly. One tool used to detect welfare fraud has brought down the Dutch Government while another similar tool has cost the Australian Government over $1 billion in compensation payments and extracted an apology from Prime Minister Morrison.

Other failures have occurred in areas as diverse as storing medical records through to predictive exam results for school-leavers and predictive land-use planning tools.

“Some of these have failed because of ethical shortcomings while others have suffered from democratic deficits. Technical inadequacy has been the least important factor explain the failures. But this also requires officials to also develop deeper understanding of both the methods and their applications,” Dr. Agar said.

The course gives participants hands-on experience with data analytics and data visualization tools applied to actual datasets to bring them close to the techniques and the issues associated with using them.

Guided by scholars and practitioners of policy, analytics and ethics, participants will develop their own robust framework for making ethical assessments. The course draws heavily upon New Zealand’s own experiences before concluding with a special session on balancing Noa (benefits and opportunities) against Tapu (sensitivities and risks).

Applications for Data Ethics and Algorithmic Government executive program close on June 4.

ABOUT CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY-AUSTRALIA

At the invitation of the South Australian Government, CMU opened its Australian campus in Adelaide in 2006. Located in the historical International University Precinct in the heritage-listed Torrens Building in Victoria Square, CMU was the first international university to be established in Australia. Our Australian campus marks CMU’s presence in the Asia and Pacific region, making it a vital partner to the CMU extension campuses in Silicon Valley, Rwanda, and Qatar.

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