NYC has an algorithm ethics task force, and Drexel prof Julia Stoyanovich is involved - Technical.ly Philly

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May 30, 2018 12:59 pm

NYC has an algorithm ethics task force, and Drexel prof Julia Stoyanovich is involved

The Automated Decision Systems Task Force, created by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, will create procedures for assessing the city's algorithmic tools.
Julia Stoyanovich.

Julia Stoyanovich.

(Courtesy photo)

Drexel University professor and researcher Julia Stoyanovich, whose work focuses on ethical data management and analysis, is one of 14 experts tapped by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to join the city’s new Automated Decision Systems Task Force. The first of its kind entity in the U.S. will look at New York’s use of algorithms from a standpoint of equity and transparency.

Stoyanovich, who has a Ph.D. in computer science from Columbia University, said she looks forward to working with the city to help make its use of algorithms more equitable and transparent. By December 2019, the task force is expected to produce a report recommending procedures for reviewing and assessing NYC’s algorithmic tools.

“The task force is primarily made up of people with expertise in tech law and public policy,” Stoyanovich told Technical.ly. “There are only a handful of people that have technical expertise in computer science and I’m one of those people. I’m looking forward to using my research insights specifically on operationalizing ethics in algorithms and data to come up with actionable recommendations for agencies.”

(Related: A Philly Tech Week 2016 panel warned us of the risk of racial bias in hiring algorithms used by some big companies.)

“As data and technology become more central to the work of city government, the algorithms we use to aid decision making must be aligned with our goals and values,” de Blasio said in a statement. “The establishment of the Automated Decision Systems Task Force is an important first step towards greater transparency and equity in our use of technology.”

Inspiration for the task force’s creation actually came by way of a news report: a ProPublica investigation published in 2016 on the racial bias of predictive policing tools made New York City Council Member James Vacca want to take action. Vacca introduced a bill into Council which was approved in December of last year. The task force will have its first official convening in June.

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“People building and deploying algorithms in the public sector need to be aware that these algorithms are not only there to achieve accuracy, but also that transparency of government is a primary concern,” said Stoyanovich. “Understanding how equitable conclusions are made and how well we can explain the operation of the system, these are all important aspects.”

The researcher said she was excited about the upcoming work that New York was doing, and she deemed it a “an important step toward transparency.”

Philly, which has already been grappling with the ethical implications of algorithmic tools, would do well to take a look at the task force’s report.

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