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New White House Science and Technology Leader on AI, Diversity and Society

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Technologies such as artificial intelligence and human genome editing “further reveal and reflect the complex and sometimes dangerous social architecture that lies beneath the scientific advancements we pursue,” Dr Alondra Nelson said today. at a televised ceremony showcasing the science of President-elect Joe Biden. team. Friday the Biden’s transition team named Nelson as Deputy Director of OSTP for Science and Society. Biden will be sworn in on Wednesday to officially become the 46th President of the United States.

Nelson said in ceremony that science is a social phenomenon and a reflection of people, their relationships and their institutions. This means that it’s really important to know who is in the room when new technologies like AI are developed, she said. This is also why for much of her career she has sought to understand the perspectives of people who are not generally included in the development of emerging technologies. The connections between our scientific and social worlds have never been more urgent than today, she said, and there has never been a more important time to situate scientific development in ethical values ​​such as as equality, accountability, justice and reliability.

“When we provide inputs to the algorithm; when we program the device; when we design, test and research; we are making human choices, choices that put our social world to work in new and powerful ways, ”she said. “As a black researcher, I am very aware of those who are missing from these pieces. I believe we have a responsibility to work together to make sure that our science and technology reflect us, and when they do, they reflect all of us, that they reflect who we really are together. It is also a breakthrough. It is also an innovation that advances our lives.

Nelson’s comments allude to trends in pervasive algorithmic bias and the well-documented lack of diversity among teams deploying artificial intelligence. These trends seem to have converged when Google fired co-head of AI ethics, Timnit Gebru, last month. Algorithmic biases have been shown to disproportionately and negatively impact black lives in several ways, including the use of facial recognition leading to false arrests, adverse effects on the health of millions of people, and unfair lending practices. A study published last month found that the diversity of teams developing and deploying artificial intelligence is key to reducing algorithmic bias.

Dr Eric Lander will be appointed Director of OSTP and Presidential Scientific Advisor. In his remarks today, he called America’s greatest asset “unmatched diversity” and spoke of a science and technology policy that creates new industries and jobs, but also ensures that benefits of progress are “widely shared among all Americans.”

“Scientific progress is someone who sees something that no one has seen before because it brings a different focus, different experiences, different questions, different passions. No one can surpass America in this regard, but we have to make sure that everyone not only has a place at the table, but a place on the lab bench, ”he said.

Biden also spoke at the ceremony, referring to the team he has assembled as the one who will help “restore America’s hope in the frontier of science” while also tackling advances in health care and challenges like climate change.

“We have the most diverse population in the world in a democracy, and there is so much we can do. I can’t tell you how excited we were to do this. We saved it for last. I know it’s not about naming the defense ministry or the attorney general, but I’m telling you what: you have more impact on what our children will face and our grandchildren will have opportunities to do it than anyone, ”he said.

As part of today’s announcement, Biden said the presidential science adviser will take a cabinet-level position for the first time in U.S. history. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, whose mother worked as a scientist at UC Berkeley, also spoke. She concluded her remarks by approving funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and recognizing Dr Kizzmekia Corbett, a black scientist whose contributions helped create the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

The Biden-Harris campaign platform is also committed to tackling certain forms of algorithmic bias. While the Trump administration has signed a few international agreements backing trustworthy AI, the current president’s tough immigration policies and fanatic rhetoric undermine any chance for leadership when it comes to addressing the ways in which biases algorithms lead to discrimination or violations of civil rights.

Earlier this week, members of the Trump administration introduced the Office of AI Initiatives to guide a national AI strategy following the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The IA Initiatives Office may be one of the only federal offices to feature a neural network and an eagle in its seal.

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