Seda Gürses

Delft University of Technology

Date: 20th of September, 2021

Time: 16:00 (CET)

Title: Protective Optimization Technologies: a proposal for contestation in the world rather than fairness in the algorithm

Abstract: Fairness frameworks proposed by computer scientists have come into vogue as a way to address the economic, moral, social, and political impact that digital systems have on populations. These frameworks succeed, in part, by narrowing the problem definition to reduce complexity. Not surprisingly, this simplification limits the ability of these frameworks to capture and mitigate a variety of harms caused by AI based optimization systems.

In this talk, I will first characterize these limitations and evaluate their consequences using concepts from requirements engineering and from social sciences. In particular, I will show that the focus on the inputs and outputs of algorithms misses the way that harms are manifested when systems interact with the "world"; the focus on bias and discrimination excludes broader harms on populations and their environments due to the introduction of optimization systems ; and, most strikingly, the frameworks' reliance on the service provider focuses on mitigations possible through an incentivized service provider and does not explore avenues of action in cases where they are not cooperative or intentionally adversarial.

To broaden the scope of the field we propose a new class of solutions that explore other approaches to capturing harms and contesting optimization systems: Protective Optimization Technologies (POTs). POTs take into account the negative impacts of systems in the world and provide means to influence the systems' outputs to mitigate these harms. POTs intervene from outside the system, and are intended to function when the service provider is not cooperative or when they are not able to correct the harms that their system imposes on populations and their environments.

Speaker Biography: Seda Gürses is an Associate Professor in the Department of Multi-Actor Systems at TU Delft at the Faculty of Technology Policy and Management (TPM), and an affiliate at the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) Group at the Department of Electrical Engineering (ESAT), KU Leuven. Previously she received an FWO post-doctoral fellowship of the Research Foundation, Flanders which she completed at KU Leuven, was a research associate and fellow at the Center for Information Technology and Policy at Princeton University, and a fellow at the Media, Culture and Communications Department at NYU Steinhardt and at the Information Law Institute at NYU Law School. Her work focuses on privacy enhancing and protective optimization technologies (PETs and POTs), privacy engineering, as well as questions around software infrastructures, social justice and political economy as they intersect with computer science. She is currently in the Management Team of the TPM AI Lab, is a member of the DP3T Team that developed the privacy preserving contact tracing protocol, one of the designs underlying Google and Apple’s GAEN, is a co-founder of The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest.


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