AI is only human

I’m so glad that The New York Times ran this op-ed (Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem) about the inherent biases in Artificial Intelligence algorithms. Popular culture and much media coverage of AI tends to mysticize how it works, neglecting to point out that any machine learning algorithm is only going to be as good as the training set that goes into its creation.

Delip Rao, a machine learning consultant, thinks long and hard about the bias problem. He recently gave a fascinating talk at a machine learning meetup where he implored a room of machine learning engineers to be vigilant in making sure their algorithms were not encoding any hidden bias.

The slides from his talk are posted online but Delip’s final takeaway lessons have stuck with me and are good to keep in mind whenever you read stories of algorithms taking on a mind of their own.

Delip Rao takeaways

It is still very early days and many embarrassing mistakes have been made and more will be made in the future. Our assumption should be that every automated system is fallible and that each mistake is an opportunity to make things better (both ourselves and the algorithm) and should not be an indictment of the technology.


Short Term vs. Long Term Metrics

Silicon Valley has replaced Wall Street as the preferred destination of fresh graduates. The pursuit of short term wealth on Wall Street in the 80s is replaced with other short term data points which, when pursued with a singular focus, can skew one’s moral compass.

“If Google’s primary weapons are relevancy and speed, then Uber’s are cost and speed.” What I didn’t say: They are fairly similar in their inability to deal with consumers at a human level. That is the challenge of our times.

– Om Malik, Technology and the Moral Dimension

In this data-driven world we must keep in mind what is being measured and remember that organizations instinctively optimize for those metrics. During this Thanksgiving break, think of alternative, long term metrics such as Lifetime Customer Value, Renewal Rates, and Net Promoter Score as important KPIs for your business’ success in the long term.