July 15, 2020

Accountable Algorithms: An Example

I wrote yesterday about accountable algorithms. When I say that a public algorithm is “accountable” I mean that the output produced by a particular execution of the algorithm can be verified as correct after the fact by a skeptical member of the public. Today I want to work through an example.
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Accountable Algorithms

Ethan Zuckerman had an interesting reaction to his first experience with the TSA Pre-Check program, which lets frequent flyers go through a much shorter and less elaborate procedure at airport security checkpoints. Ethan’s concerns about unfairness are worth pondering, but I want to focus here on his call for more openness about the algorithm that selects people for enhanced search.

Public processes often involve algorithms, and the public has an interest in the openness of these processes. Today I want to expand on what we mean when we talk about this kind of openness. In my next post, I’ll work through a specific example, taken from airport security, and show how we can improve the public accountability of that algorithm.
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On the Harvard "Cheating" Scandal

The news that Harvard is investigating more than 100 students on charges of unauthorized collaboration on a take-home exam has, predictably, led many commentators to chime in. No matter who you are, a story like this is likely to trigger one of your hot buttons, whether it’s the declining moral standards of kids these days, the moral core of elite educational institutions, the inherent injustice of top-down rulemaking, or whatever. Not to mention that the course was “Introduction to Congress.” [Read more…]