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Panelists, Including Facebook Executive, Call For Increased Content Moderation

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WASHINGTON, July 22, 2019 — The primary responsibility of moderating online platforms lies with the platforms themselves, making Section 230 protections essential, said panelists at New America’s Open Technology Institute on Thursday.

Although some policymakers are attempting to solve the problem of digital content moderation, Open Technology Institute Director Sarah Morris noted that the First Amendment limits the government’s ability to regulate speech, leaving platforms to handle “the vast majority of decision making.”

“Washington lawmakers don’t have the capacity to address these challenges,” said Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities.

It’s up to tech companies to do more than they are currently doing to tackle hate speech on their platforms, said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

Facebook Public Policy Manager Shaarik Zafar acknowledged that the tech community needs to do a better job of enforcing its policies—and on creating those policies in the first place.

Content moderation is an extremely difficult process, he said. Although algorithms are fairly good at detecting terrorism and child exploitation, other issues can be more difficult, such as trying to distinguish between journalists and activists raising awareness of atrocities versus people glorifying violent extremism.

No single solution can eliminate hate speech, and any solution found will have to be frequently revisited and updated, said Ochillo. But that doesn’t mean that platforms and others shouldn’t be a significant effort, she said, pointing out that people suffer real-world secondary effects from hateful content posted online.

Zafar emphasized Facebook’s commitment to onboarding additional civil rights expertise as the platform continues to tackle the problem of hate speech.

He also highlighted Facebook’s recently announced external oversight board, which will be made up of a diverse group of experts with experience in content, privacy, free expression, human rights, safety, and other relevant disciplines.

Facebook would defer to the board on difficult content moderation questions, said Zafar, and would follow their recommendation even when company executives disagree.

But as companies take steps to fine-tune and enforce their terms of service, transparency is of the utmost importance, Snyder said.

Content moderation algorithms should be made public so that independent researchers can test them for bias, suggested Sharon Franklin, OTI’s director of surveillance and cybersecurity policy.

Franklin also highlighted the Santa Clara Principles, a set of guidelines for transparency and accountability in content moderation. The principles call on companies to publish the numbers of posts removed and accounts suspended, provide notice to users whose content or account is removed, and create a meaningful appeal process.

Allowing content moderation under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has spurred innovation and made it possible for individuals and companies to have access to massive audiences through social media, said Zafar.

Without those protections, he continued, companies might choose to forgo content moderation altogether, leaving all sorts of hate speech, misinformation, and spam on the platforms to the point that they might actually become unusable.

The other potential danger of repealing the law would be companies airing on the side of caution and over-enforcing policies, said Franklin. Section 230 actually leads to less censorship because it allows for nuanced content moderation.

The Open Technology Institute supports Section 230 and is very concerned about the recent attacks that have been made on it, Franklin added.

Section 230 is “far from perfect,” said Snyder, but it’s much better than any of the plans that have been proposed to modify it or than not having it at all.

Facebook and other platforms give voice to a wide range of ideologies, and people from all backgrounds are able to successfully gain significant followings, said Zafar, emphasizing that the company’s purpose is to serve everybody.

(Photo of New America event by Emily McPhie.)

Artificial Intelligence

FTC Commissioner Says Agency Report on AI for Online Harms Did Not Consult Outside Experts

The FTC released a report that warned about the dangers of AI’s use to combat online harms.

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Photo of FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2022 – Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips said last week that a report by the commission about the use of artificial intelligence to tackle online harms did not consult outside experts as Congress asked.

The FTC’s “Combatting Online Harms through Innovation” report – approved by a 4-1 vote to send to Congress and released on June 16 – warns against using AI as a policy solution for online problems, as the commission says it contains inherent design flaws, bias and discrimination, and features commercial surveillance concerns. The commission concluded that the potential adoption of AI could increase additional harms.

However, the report found that amid the use of AI by Big Tech platforms to address online harms, “lawmakers should consider focusing on developing legal frameworks that would ensure that AI tools do not cause additional harm.”

The one dissenting opinion on the report was from Phillips, who said the FTC did not do the study that was required by Congress. As part of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress asked the FTC to conduct a study on how artificial intelligence could address online harms such as fake reviews, hate crimes and harassment and child sexual abuse.

“I do not believe we conducted the requisite study, and I do not think the report on AI issued by the Commission takes sufficient care to answer the questions Congress asked,” Phillips said in his dissenting statement.

Phillips said the report mainly focuses on the technology of AI itself and lacks the outside perspective from individuals and companies who use AI and try to combat the harms of AI online, which he said is “precisely what Congress asked us to evaluate.”

Phillips added that in the 12 months the FTC was given to complete this study, “rather than use this time to solicit input from all relevant stakeholders, the Commission chose to conduct a kind of literature review.

Phillips said in his statement he would have liked to see interviews of market participants or surveys conducted, which allegedly isn’t included in the recent report and adds that he is instead concerned about the “quantity of self-reference” used by the FTC in the report.

“Still, we should at least endeavor to produce a report that reflects the full diversity of experiences and viewpoints on these important issues concerning AI.” Phillips also noted the report doesn’t include a serious cost-benefit analysis of using AI to combat online harms.

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Defense Department Must Continue Investing in Artificial Intelligence to Combat Cyber Threats: Google

Investing in AI will help prevent cyberattacks, in light of warnings about a possible increase in such attacks from Russia.

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Screenshot of Andrew Moore, vice president and director of Google Cloud, in 2019

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2022 – A Google executive is calling for the Department of Defense to continue making investments in artificial intelligence to protect the cyberspace, in light of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and warnings about a possible increase in cyberattacks against the private sector.

The DoD needs to invest in “training, technology, and management that will facilitate more experimentation, prototyping, and execution” of these technologies, Andrew Moore, vice president and director of Google Cloud, told a Senate subcommittee on cybersecurity Tuesday.

“One of AI’s critical uses is finding anomalies in activity that would indicate a new threat vector,” Moore said.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, government officials have warned about potential increased cyberattacks against the United States.

The DoD can use AI capabilities in defense against attacks as AI monitors known threats on a massive scale, analyzes historical data and monitors active exploitation, the subcommittee heard. AI provides on-demand scanning of software and active scanning for malicious sites.

AI can also break down and unify data sources by cross-linking and joining data, allowing for constant pattern detection for unexpected defensive concerns, it heard further.

“The Department must have the ability for teams to quickly build, adapt and leverage an AI system – in hours or days – to address problems like finding a ship lost at sea or responding to an active threat event,” said Moore.

Moore claimed that Google has developed a “level of insight and visibility into the world of cyber threats that allows [them] to assess and develop cutting edge defenses to whole classes of threats, not just particular attacks.”

There have been concerns raised in the past year that the federal government has not welcomed AI technology, leading to a possible global economic divide and national security threats.

AI development needs experienced workforce

Training and educating will greatly help the DoD make necessary investments as employees gain confidence and familiarity with AI.

The DoD was further called by Eric Horvitz, technical fellow and chief scientific officer at Microsoft, to invest in training and education to strengthen the U.S. workforce in cybersecurity.

“For cybersecurity and in the context of national security, having the upper hand in AI against your adversary is critical,” Moore said.

“There is a race to see who can get machines to provide as much defense as possible,” he added. “For example, AI systems are absolutely necessary to automate aspects of cybersecurity. The US remains the leader in AI, but we must ensure we continue to do this at scale.”

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Scott Heric: Robots Benefit Industrial Processes Most by Enhancing the Efforts of Humans

It is time to understand the impact robots have and the best route to using them to optimize labor practices.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Scott Heric, co-founder of Unionly

If you have had a cup of coffee lately, you have probably been served by a robot. It may not have been a “baristabot” that took your order or handed you your latte at your local coffee shop, but somewhere along the line from bean to breve, an intelligent machine most likely played a role in producing your coffee.

Employing robots and other intelligent machines in industrial processes is part of a movement that is often referred to as the automation revolution. While it promises to shape the future of many industries, it is not futuristic.

Intelligent machines are already being employed in ways we never thought possible a few years ago. And now is the time to understand the impact they can have and the best route to using them to optimize labor practices.

Are robots taking over the workplace?

Presently, “robot density per employee,” which is a measure used to gauge the degree to which automation is being embraced, stands at 126 robots per 10,000 employees. While that may seem small, it is more than double the number recorded in 2015, a trend that has some concerned.

In early 2020, Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report titled “Work of the Future” that was developed in part to address a growing anxiety related to the automation revolution.

In its coverage of the report, MIT Technology Review explained the anxiety in this way: “There’s a growing fear among many American workers that they’re about to be replaced by technology, whether that’s a robot, a more efficient computing system, or a self-driving truck.”

While a robot revolution resulting in a large-scale displacement of human workers is a popular concern that has been explored in an endless number of science fiction movies, it misses the broader potential of an automation revolution. Robots benefit industrial processes most by enhancing the efforts of human workers, not by replacing them.

A recent report by The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania shows that organizations that increase their automation through the use of robots typically hire more workers. This results from robots enhancing productivity, which grows business and demands an increase in non-robotic jobs. Wharton found that jobs were cut more often in companies that have not embraced the automation revolution. By resisting automation, they fell behind competitors, lost business, and had to let employees go.

What are the next steps?

This new paradigm of robots playing a more integral role in the workplace will not develop in a vacuum. Politically and culturally, people will need to accept intelligent machines and adapt accordingly. The automation revolution will require a shift not only in the way we work, but also in the way we think about work.

In the 1980s, computers entered the workplace. Some resisted, seeing the new technology as a tool that would be used to supplant the systems that were in place at that time.

Today, very few workplaces could survive without computers. Rather than supplanting systems, computers became a tool to optimize systems. Rather than displacing workers, they created a new universe of jobs.

Robots and other intelligent machines offer the same potential to those who are willing to see them as a tool that can be wielded to increase efficiency and productivity. Those who resist will watch from the sidelines as the automation revolution advances.

 Scott Heric, Co-Founder of Unionly, has years of experience helping organizations to raise funds online. He helped develop sales and account management for Avvo, growing from 30 to 500 people over seven years. Heric then took a chief of staff role at Snap Mobile Inc., where he oversaw development of the product, marketing, sales, and account management, leading to the company becoming a leading digital fundraising platform in higher education. His company Unionly was acquired in January of 2020. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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