Digital Bounty Hunters Want To Help Businesses Track Down Hidden AI Biases That Can Prevent People Getting Jobs And Loans

Could an AI program be preventing you from landing a dream job? New York’s city council wants to make sure that’s not the case for people looking for work in the Big Apple. The council recently passed a bill that would require providers of automated employment decision tools to recruiters in the city to have their underlying AI algorithms audited each year and share the results with companies using their services.

If the measure is passed into law, it will be one of the first significant legal moves in the U.S. that attempts to ensure AI-driven software tools don’t have biases embedded in them that discriminate against people on racial, ethnic or other grounds. If more measures along these lines are passed, they could spark a boom in demand for digital bounty hunters who use computers to track down their quarry.

Many companies now offer cybersecurity “bug bounties,” which can sometimes reach hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, to people who help them find previously undetected security flaws in their software. The business has grown to the point where it has spawned startups such as Bugcrowd and HackerOne that help CIOs and other executives launch bounty programs and recruit ethical hackers to work on them.

Now the platforms say they’re seeing growing interest in programs that reward ethical hackers and researchers for flagging unforeseen algorithmic biases. As well as leading to prejudices in hiring, such biases can affect everything from loan applications to policing strategies. They can be deliberately or inadvertently introduced by developers themselves or by the choice of data sets algorithms are trained on.

Almost all the AI bounty initiatives to date have been kept private, with small groups of hackers invited to work on them so companies can get a feel for what’s possible. “There’s a lot of tire-kicking going on,” says Casey Ellis, founder and chairman of Bugcrowd.

Twitter bounties

One business that has gone a step further and run a public experiment is Twitter. In July, the social media giant launched an algorithmic bias bounty program that paid rewards of up to $3,500 for an analysis of a photo-cropping algorithm. The company had already acknowledged the algorithm was repeatedly cropping out Black faces in favor of white ones and favoring men over women. Those findings came after a public outcry over potential bias led Twitter to launch a review of the algorithm.

Some critics saw the subsequent decision to launch the AI bias bounty program publicly as a PR move, but Twitter’s engineers argued that getting a diverse group of people to scrutinize its algorithms would be more likely to help it surface biases. The company ended up awarding $7,000 in bounties, with the top prize going to a person who showed that Twitter’s AI model tended to favor stereotypical beauty traits, such as a preference for slimmer, younger, feminine and lighter-skinned faces.

The company stressed that one reason the exercise had been valuable was because it pulled in a broad geographic spread of contributors. Alex Rice, the CTO of HackerOne, which helped Twitter run its program, believes bounties can help other businesses identify issues with algorithms by subjecting AI models to this kind of broader scrutiny. “The idea is to put as much diversity as we can on the problem in the most real-world environment we can create,” he says.

Although Twitter hasn’t committed to run another program yet, tech research firm Forrester predicts that at least five major companies, including banks and healthcare businesses, will launch their own AI bias bounty offerings next year. Brandon Purcell, one of the firm’s analysts, thinks that within a few years, the number of programs will start growing exponentially and says CIOs will likely be key promoters of them, along with human resources directors.

Wanted: AI bounty hunters

To meet future demand, the world’s going to need many more AI sleuths. Cybersecurity experts are in short supply, but there are even fewer people with a deep understanding of how AI models work. Some security-focused hackers are likely to hunt for AI biases too, assuming the bounties are big enough, but experts say there are key differences that make bias-hunting more challenging.

One of them is that algorithms evolve constantly over time as they feed on more data. Cybersecurity systems morph, too, but generally at a slower pace. AI bias hunters also need to be more willing to look at how algorithms interact with broader systems within a business, whereas many cyber challenges are more circumscribed.

Some ethical hackers who’ve also hunted for security bugs say those challenges are what makes AI bias hunting so intellectually stimulating. “It’s more of a creative process and less of a logical process that involves going through trying to break something using a lot of predefined methods,” says Megan Howell, one of the bounty hunters who took part in the Twitter challenge.

People with deep industry expertise in areas such as credit assessment and health screening but who don’t yet have AI skills could help to close the talent gap. Bugcrowd’s Ellis points out that some of the most accomplished security bug hunters in the automotive field are car enthusiasts who got so interested in the safety issues facing the industry that they taught themselves to use coding tools.

“The idea is to put as much diversity as we can on the problem in the most real-world environment we can create.”

Alex Rice, CTO, HackerOne

While bounty programs could be useful in identifying bias, CIOs say that they should never be treated as a first line of defense. Instead, the goal should be to use tools and processes to build algorithms in ways that enable companies to explain clearly the results they produce. For instance, training algorithms using supervised learning, which involves feeding them prelabeled data sets, rather than unsupervised learning, which leaves algorithms to work out the structure of data by themselves, can help reduce the risk that biases will creep in.

Tech leaders in sectors such as banking are paying especially close attention to how their algorithms are built and perform. “Our industry being regulated . . . naturally lends itself to being more stringent with AI models,” says Sathish Muthukrishnan, the chief information, data and digital officer of $16.8 billion market cap Ally Financial. “We start with developing supervised models for customer-facing use cases.”

HackerOne’s Rice agrees that plenty can and should be done to eliminate biases in AI models during their development. Still, he thinks bounty programs are something CIOs and other executives should still be considering as a complement to their upfront efforts. “You want to find [biases] through automation, scanning, developer training, vulnerability management tools,” says Rice. “The problem is that all of these are insufficient.”

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A Diesel Engine Giant Pushes Batteries And Hydrogen At COP26 To Combat Climate Crisis

Cummins Inc., a century-old maker of truck engines powered by diesel and other fossil fuels, may not seem like the most likely attendee at the UN Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, but CEO Tom Linebarger was there this week telling industrial partners and customers the company is working to help them shift to low- and no-carbon vehicles powered by batteries and hydrogen.

As battery-electric passenger models gain market share in the U.S., Europe and China, attention is shifting to electrifying larger, dirtier commercial vehicles including semi-trucks, construction and mining vehicles, as well as trains, ships and aircraft. Currently, no single type of electric power train can easily scale to handle light and heavy-duty vehicle categories, so it’s necessary to use both, Linebarger tells Forbes.

“If you’re flogging one thing and you trash the other, it’s not a good plan for meeting the challenge of climate change,” he said from Glasgow. “Climate change is the existential crisis of our time. It’s just not a good idea to argue about whether batteries are better than fuel cells.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose company has become synonymous with electric cars, is among the most vocal critics of using hydrogen as a transportation fuel, citing its inefficiency relative to batteries and the high cost of the fuel cell stacks that make electric power from hydrogen and oxygen. Yet makers of trucks and commercial vehicles that need to travel long distances aren’t convinced that multi-ton, lithium-ion battery packs that need relatively long recharge times are the best option.

(Notably, Musk also doesn’t launch his SpaceX rockets with batteries, but instead a blend of kerosene and liquid oxygen that spew climate-warming black carbon, or soot.)

Shifting away from carbon-based fuels was a key topic for negotiators at COP26 and appeared to have made a historic breakthrough with a first-draft agreement calling for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. But a second draft appeared to soften the wording as major oil and gas producers fight to save subsidies.

Rather than storing electricity as batteries do, fuel cells make it as needed in an electrochemical process involving hydrogen and oxygen that emits only water as a by-product. Columbus, Indiana-based Cummins is far from alone in pushing hydrogen to power heavy-duty vehicles. Toyota, Hino, Hyundai Motor, Volvo, Daimler, Nikola, General Motors and Navistar have their own hydrogen-fueled plans.

They say the technology is better suited for heavy trucks that drive hundreds of miles per day than multi-ton batteries, such as those required by Tesla’s long-delayed electric Semi, as the fuel cell power train is lighter and can be refueled about as quickly as a diesel truck.

Cummins sees batteries as a better option for smaller, lighter types of vehicles that don’t need to travel particularly long distances, but not as practical for users in remote areas or who require heavier types of applications.

“To bring battery-charging stations to every farm and every application, it’s just incredibly expensive, versus to make hydrogen available, which is transportable,” Linebarger says. “And vice versa . . . hydrogen is just not a good fuel when you can charge your cars at home and have to transport hydrogen around. You just lose too much efficiency.”

During the international conference, Cummins met with operators of large commercial fleets who are eager to make them more sustainable but are running into practical challenges to do so.

“There’s many big fleets here, actually. Their sustainability leaders here meeting with us are saying, ‘How can they hit these goals? And how can we help them do that faster?’” Amy Davis, president of Cummins’ New Power Segment, said from Glasgow. “They’re getting their head around last-mile trucks, but what about long-haul?

It can’t get there right now and [saying] ‘I couldn’t even charge three of my trucks at once, given the system that’s out there for charging. So what are we going to do?’ This is where fuel cell electric drive train can be quite complementary with the battery work that’s going on.”

But even as electric power train technologies advance, other options shouldn’t be overlooked in the near term, says Linebarger.

“We should start even on technologies that we have today, like lower carbon fuels, natural gas, renewable natural gas in (internal combustion) engines, because we are running out of time. It’s just that simple,” he said. “We are putting carbon in the atmosphere that we cannot remove so we need to get moving on all of them.”

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Business, Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN. “Why electric cars are so much heavier than regular cars

 

Crypto And Digital Asset Platform Bakkt Releases First Earnings, Lays Out Bold Partnership Strategy To Growth

Today Bakkt, a mobile wallet provider and digital asset platform founded in 2018 released its first earnings as a public company. The firm began trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on October 18th following a SPAC merger with VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings (VIH).

Casual observers may find the results underwhelming. After all, the company, whose backers include NYSE parent firm Intercontinental Exchange, and which had completed a $300 million Series B round of funding in March 2020 brought in just $9.1 million in revenue this quarter.

Granted it is up 7% from Q2 and 38% year over year, and the company reports having 1.7 million transacting accounts, but the firm still had a net loss of $28.8 million. In contrast, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase earned $1.2 billion in revenue and Square’s Cash App, which offers an easy way for users to buy bitcoin, brought in $1.87 billion in crypto revenue and $42 million in gross profit. PayPal, which offers a simple interface for users to buy and make purchases with Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Bitcoin cash opened 13.3 million accounts last quarter despite disappointing revenues.

However, according to Bakkt CEO Gavin Michael, who spoke exclusively to Forbes prior to the earnings release, this is all part of his plan for the company that has evolved from primarily being a bitcoin custodian and futures exchange to a much more comprehensive platform. Michael, who previously served as a technology executive for banks such as Citi, JPMorgan and Lloyds, intends for Bakkt to become the hub of an extensive ecosystem of business to business and consumer retail activity, with loyalty points and digital assets such as Bitcoin and Ethereum in the center of it all.

“We see businesses leveraging our platform to drive loyalty, and to deepen their customer relationships…they’re also able to innovate with crypto services and crypto rewards, appealing to a growing segment of digitally savvy customers.”The company’s merger also brought in a war chest of more than $480 million to use for future partnerships and acquisitions.

Also not reflected in these numbers is the steady stream of brand-name partnerships brought onto the platform, starting with Starbucks this past March and growing to include Choice Hotels, Fiserv, Finastra, Wells Fargo, United Airlines and Mastercard. These tie-ups are intended to do everything from helping community banks and credit union clients invest in crypto to allow merchants on the Mastercard network to offer crypto rewards to users.

“We enable these companies to really deliver consumer choice, [offer] convenience with alternate payment methods that allow consumers to spend the value of their digital assets across merchants and enable businesses to gain access to this increased spending power.”

The market responded particularly well to the MasterCard partnership, announced on October 25th. The firm’s stock rose 400% in a week. It has since surrendered over half of those gains, but it remains up over 160% since the merger was finalized.

In addition, the firm is looking to onboard more digital assets, though Michael says that given the platform’s comparatively conservative nature compared to traditional cryptocurrency exchanges,  “It’s fair to say that we are probably a platform that will have several, rather than several 100.” Regarding stablecoins and central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), which are increasingly becoming a focal point for regulators and entwined in global commerce and trading, Michael noted “We’re obviously watching closely what happens with stablecoins and CBDCs, because we’re an obvious choice, particularly with the partners that we’re working with…to really bring them to life.” Bakkt does not support any at this time.

With those integrations likely to wait until 2022 at the earliest, Q4 is shaping up to be an early test for Bakkt’s future. Unlike exchanges such as Coinbase, whose fortunes are highly dependent on the volatile nature of cryptocurrency prices to drive trading fees, Bakkt is more dependent upon retail spending to facilitate user growth and engagement on the platform. Q42020 was its most lucrative from a revenue standpoint in the company’s brief history, which Michael attributed in the interview to the seasonality of retail commercial activity, stating that he expects a similar trend again this year.

However, this trend could be upended, to some degree, by today’s challenging economic climate. Already retail establishments are reporting issues finding temporary staff for the holiday season, and October’s inflation numbers, which saw a 6.2% increase from a year ago, the highest jump in 31 years, may limit customer purchasing power over the next couple of months. More worrying is a growing belief among consumers and policymakers that inflation remains stickier than they would like, even if they still believe it is transitory.

That said, the silver lining could be that two industry segments not experiencing massive inflation are travel and lodging, which Bakkt supports through its partnerships with United Airlines and Choice Hotels. Airline fares actually fell 0.7% on the month and is down 4.6% year on year. The index for lodging away from home increased just 1.4%. As more of the world becomes vaccinated, travel restrictions loosen, and cross-border commerce recovers to pre-pandemic levels, Bakkt could see more engagement with its platform.

One final challenge will be convincing clients to part with their bitcoin and ethereum in exchange for goods and services. Both cryptocurrencies, which each hit new all-time highs on November 10th of $68,721 and $4,851 respectively, are seeing reductions in their circulating supply.

This trend is due to multiple factors, pre-eminent among them is the fear of someone finding in the future that they bought a $1000 cup of coffee in 2021 when they needed a quick boost. Of course, when asked about this challenge, Michael and the team are quick to point out that Bakkt is not necessarily a crypto platform, but a universal ecosystem for all digital assets.

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Future of College Will Involve Fewer Professors

At a large private university in Northern California, a business professor uses an avatar to lecture on a virtual stage. Meanwhile, at a Southern university, graduate students in an artificial intelligence course discover that one of their nine teaching assistants is a virtual avatar, Jill Watson, also known as Watson, IBM’s question-answering computer system. Of the 10,000 messages posted to an online message board in one semester, Jill participated in student conversations and responded to all inquiries with 97% accuracy.

At a private college on the East Coast, students interact with an AI chat agent in a virtual restaurant set in China to learn the Mandarin language. These examples provide a glimpse into the future of teaching and learning in college. It is a future that will involve a drastically reduced role for full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty who teach face to face.

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I forecast this future scenario and other trends in my 2021 book “Human Specialization in Design and Technology: The Current Wave for Learning, Culture, Industry and Beyond.” As a researcher who specializes in educational technology, I see three trends that will further shrink the role of traditional college professors.

1. The rise of artificial intelligence

According to a 2021 Educause Quick Poll report on AI, many institutions of higher education find themselves more focused on the present limited use of AI – for tasks such as detecting plagiarism or proctoring – and not so much the future of AI.

AI’s use in higher education has largely been concerned with digital assistants and chat agents. These technologies focus on the teaching and learning of students.

In my view, universities should broaden their use of AI and conduct experiments to improve upon its usefulness to individual learners. For example, how can colleges use AI to improve student learning of calculus or help students become stronger writers?

However, most universities are slow to innovate. According to a 2021 poll, some of the challenges to acquiring AI included lack of technical expertise, financial concerns, insufficient leadership and biased algorithms.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are leading the way with new uses of AI. In an immersion lab staged as a food market in China, Rensselaer virtually transports students learning Mandarin Chinese into this market to interact with AI avatars. MIT has devoted millions of dollars to faculty research in AI. One of MIT’s projects – called RAISE, for Responsible AI for Social Empowerment and Education – will support how people from diverse backgrounds learn AI, and human learning in general.

Professors from the baby-boom generation are retiring, and I expect some of their jobs will not be filled. In many cases, these coveted positions will be replaced by part-time and temporary faculty. I believe the rising use of AI will contribute to this trend, with universities relying more on technology than in-person teaching.

2. Erosion of academic tenure

Tenure is a status that grants professors protections against being outright fired without due cause or extraordinary circumstances. However, the pandemic became a means to dismiss, suspend or terminate tenured faculty. For example, the Kansas Board of Regents in January 2021 voted to allow emergency terminations and suspensions – including for tenured faculty – to alleviate financial pressures placed on universities by the pandemic.

News reports continue to show a steady decline in the number of tenured faculty positions. According to an American Association of University Professors report, the proportion of part-time and full-time nontenure-track faculty grew from 55% in 1975 to 70% in 2015. Conversely, the proportion of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty fell from 45% to 30% in that period.

Universities used the pandemic as a reason to override and diminish the power of shared leadership with faculty. That included voiding faculty handbooks, regulations and employment contracts.

Ultimately, the pandemic was an opportunity for universities to downsize unproductive faculty and keep “active practitioners.”

3. The flipped classroom

The flipped classroom provides students with opportunities to view, listen and learn at their own pace through video instruction outside the classroom. It has been around since at least 2007.

This teaching approach is similar to the way people learn from one another by watching videos on YouTube or TikTok. However, in college the flipped classroom involves prerecorded faculty lectures of course content, whether that be on the causes and effects of the Civil War or the origins of white rice. In class, students build on the professor’s prerecorded lecture and work on activities to assist discussions and expand knowledge.

The classroom becomes a place for social interaction and understanding course content. The flipped classroom maximizes instructional time for the professor and students because the lecture comes before the course’s in-class session.

As an example of the operation of a flipped classroom, a professor records a video on a subject area. This allows the same video to be viewed by one student or thousands of students. A human teaching assistant, avatar or chat agent conducts all in-class activities, tests and group work. No additional professors are needed to teach multiple sections of the same course. Professors, in this example, serve a limited role and ultimately will be needed less.

These trends illustrate a profession that I see as being on the cusp of radical transformation.

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Why Having Too Much Free Time Might Actually Be a Bad Thing

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, having too much discretionary time is “linked to lower subjective well-being.” In other words: more free time won’t always make you happier.

It sounds pretty damn counterintuitive — who wouldn’t want to lie on the beach or couch all day long? — but the project’s researchers discovered that having an abundance of task-less time often leads to a “lacking sense of productivity,” which can only be reduced when people spend time on activities that give them a sense of purpose.

Marissa Sharif, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study, told The Washington Post that a “moderate” amount of free time appears to be best: “[It] leads people to be better off or happier compared to having a large amount of free time.”

What does moderate mean? Somewhere between two to five hours a day. Push past five hours and human beings tend to feel aimless and idle. They rue their lazy choices (e.g., Netflix binges) and have trouble commencing whatever creative project they swore they’d start (e.g., the next great American novel).

In order to reach these conclusions, the authors analyzed data sets from both the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey and the Society for Human Resource Management’s National Study of the Changing Workforce to get a feel for how much free time Americans have, and how they generally respond to that free time.

Fascinatingly, the study also pointed out that having too little free time is a poor mental health play. That may not seem particularly revelatory, but it’s a reminder that the American worker — one of the most over-stressed employees in the world — gravely needs. In this case, spending less than two hours a day on time to oneself (whatever that may mean to you), will lead to a drop in well-being.

The key here is to find an amount of time between two to five hours that works on a consistent basis, and can be revisited after life-changing events. Consider: the period in between jobs, or immediately after your retirement. Having a plan (which you can keep reasonably loose, for spontaneity reasons) is your best friend.

And speaking of friends, about the only situation in which having too much free time actually helped subjective well-being was when it was spent with friends, family and colleagues. So pencil in leisure time with peers. Think dinners, tennis leagues, game nights. Alone time can be healthy too — a reading habit is dynamite for your mental health — but too much of it could put pressure on your psyche in the long run.

We long to get all our work done in order to have free time. But we should be very careful with leisure. Having nothing left to do work-wise can be a very dangerous challenge for our psyches: it can bring on despair and self-loathing. It may be that always having projects on the go can insulate us from mental unwellness. Sign up to our new newsletter and get 10% off your first online order of a book, product or class: https://bit.ly/2TMs0dT For books and more from The School of Life, visit our online shop: https://bit.ly/34vN4uL Our website has classes, articles and products to help you lead a more fulfilled life: https://bit.ly/2EzjKsp Join this channel to get access to exclusive members perks: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7Ic…

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