The Algorithmic Society

Sponsored by School of Humanities and Sciences, Chemical Engineering, Office of the Dean, School of Medicine


Thursday, February 25, 2021
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
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A panel with Irina Raicu (Program Director of Internet Ethics at the Santa Clara University), Michal Kosinski (Stanford Graduate School of Business), Simina Mistreanu (China-based journalist) and cultural historian Piero Scaruffi.

The original idea was to celebrate the 70th anniversary of George Orwell's death. The author of "1984" died one year before the introduction of the first commercial computer. His novel is therefore devoid of algorithms. The 70 years since his death have instead been the age of algorithms, that increasingly dominate our lives. An individual is increasingly defined by a combination of numbers (your tax id, your driver license number, your medical insurance number, your credit card numbers, etc). And numbers are assigned to various aspects of your life: your state's DMV rates your driving skills, credit bureaus rate your financial life, and unknown numbers of algorithms spy on you online (and make you buy things you don't need). We have slowly created "algorithmic societies", societies where algorithms rate us and sometimes spy on us. Our society is increasingly regulated by algorithms.

China has launched a "social credit system" that is possibly the most advanced use of algorithms to enforce "proper" behavior in society, but de facto the network of algorithms that, here in the USA, keep track of our increasingly online lives constitute a decentralized version of it (and perhaps an even more effective one). Can we use algorithms in more positive ways?

Michal Kosinski is a psychologist and data scientist. His research focuses on studying humans through the lenses of digital footprints left behind while using digital platforms and devices. He is an Assistant Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Michal holds a PhD in Psychology from University of Cambridge, an MPhil in Psychometrics, and a MS in Social Psychology. Michal coordinates the myPersonality project, which involves global collaboration between over 200 researchers, analyzing the detailed psycho-demographic profiles of over 8 million Facebook users.

Irina Raicu is the director of the Internet Ethics Program at the Center at Santa Clara University. Her work addresses a wide variety of issues, ranging from online privacy to net neutrality, from data ethics to social media's impact on friendship and family, from the digital divide to the ethics of encryption, and from the ethics of artificial intelligence to the right to be forgotten.  Raicu is a member of the Partnership on AI's Working Group on Fair, Transparent, and Accountable AI.

Simina Mistreanu is a China-based journalist whose work, spanning everything from China's social credit system to the crackdown campaign against minorities in Xinjiang, has appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The Guardian and Al Jazeera. Before moving to China, in 2015, she covered local politics in Portland, Oregon. (Read her article in Foreign Policy)

Piero Scaruffi has published several books on Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science since 1985. The latest is "Intelligence is not Artificial" (2016). He pioneered Internet applications in the early 1980s and the use of the World-Wide Web for cultural purposes in the mid 1990s. He is also the author of "A History of Silicon Valley".

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The LASERs (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous), chaired by cultural historian Piero Scaruffi, are an international program of evening gatherings that bring together artists, scientists, inventors and scholars in a variety of disciplines for informal presentations and conversation with an audience. During the pandemic they are held on Zoom and renamed "The L.A.S.T. Dialogues" (where LAST stands for "Life Art Science Tech").

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