By Corinna Turbes, Policy Director, Data Foundation
Much has been written about the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform social systems, but as adoption of these new technologies becomes more widespread, so will their impact on society. This leaves us with new and unique questions about the impact of AI, and we will need to turn to social scientists for the answers. Public-sector applications could help address traffic congestion, automate visa applications, monitor disease and wildfire outbreaks, and help automate other time-consuming tasks. The private sector has already deployed AI to great success, using automated processes such as chatbots to help customer service or algorithms that predict when equipment might fail.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies have real, tangible benefits for society, but fully realizing those benefits will require the work of social scientists. Social science researchers are well equipped to evaluate AI technologies for broader social implications of AI uses, as well helping inform the design of algorithms to mitigate long-entrenched biases. For example, take an algorithm that is used by judges to decide whether or not defendants are eligible for bail. These algorithms look at large datasets of which defendants have not reported for scheduled court dates, along with data elements such as income, zip code, family history and criminal records. While race may not be explicitly included in the data used by the algorithm to predict defendants’ likelihood to appear for court, social science tells us that the systemic racial disparities in the United States mean these variables become a proxy for race, resulting in Black defendants having their bail requests denied at disproportionate rates to White defendants.