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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.)

Development Associate Emily McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

Artificial Intelligence

CES 2022: Artificial Intelligence Needs to Resonate with People for Widespread Acceptance

Even though stakeholders may want technologies that yield better results, they may be uncomfortable with artificial intelligence.

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Pat Baird speaking at CES 2022

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2022 – To get artificial intelligence into the mainstream, the industry needs to appease not just regulators, but stakeholders as well.

Pat Baird, regulatory head for software standards at electronics maker Philips, said at the Consumer Electronics Show Thursday that for AI technology to be successfully implemented in a field like medicine, everyone touched by it needs to be comfortable with it.

“A lot of people want to know more information, more information, more information before you dare use that [technology] on me one of the members of my family,” Baird said, “I totally get that, but it is interesting – some of the myths that we see in Hollywood compared to how the technology [actually functions],” adding to be successful you have to win the approval of all stakeholders, not just regulators.

“It is a fine line to take and walk,” Baird said. “I think we need to make sure that the lawmakers really understand the benefits and the risks about this – not all AI is the same. Not all applications are the same.”

Like accidents involving autonomous vehicles, rare accidents for AI can set the technology back years, Baird said. “One of the things that I worry about is when something bad happens that’s kind of reflected on the entire industry.”

Baird noted that many people come prepared with preconceived biases against AI that make them susceptible to skepticism or hesitancy that a technology is safe or will work.

But he did not go so far as to say these biases against AI are putting a “thumb on the scale” against AI, “but [that thumb] is floating near the scale right now.”

“That is one of the things that I’m worried about,” he said. “Because this technology can make a difference. I want to help my patients, damn it, and if this can only improve performance by a couple percent, that is important to that family that you just helped with that [technology].”

Joseph Murphy, vice president of marketing at AI company Sensory Inc., said, “Just like everything in life it’s a tricky balance of innovation, and then putting up the speed bumps to innovation. It’s a process that has to happen.”

On Wednesday, Sally Lange Witkowski, founder of business consulting firm Slang Consulting, said that companies should be educating consumers about the benefits of 5G for widespread adoption.

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Artificial Intelligence

Henry Kissinger: AI Will Prompt Consideration of What it Means to Be Human

Event with the former Secretary of State discusses our current lack of knowledge on how to responsibly harness AI’s power.

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Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

WASHINGTON, December 24, 2021 – Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says that further use of artificial intelligence will call into question what it means to be human, and that the technology cannot solve all those problems humans fail to address on their own.

Kissinger spoke at a Council on Foreign Relations event highlighting his new book “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future” on Monday along with co-author and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt in a conversation moderated by PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff.

Schmidt remarked throughout the event on unanswered questions about AI despite common use of the technology.

He emphasized that the computer systems may be able to solve complex problems, such as in physics dealing with dark matter or dark energy, but that the humans who built the technology may not be able to determine how exactly the computer solved the problems.

Along the lines of this potential for dangerous use of the technology, he stated how AI development, though sometimes a force for good, “plays” with human lives.

He pointed out that to deal with this great technological power, almost every country now has created a governmental to oversee the ethics of AI development.

Schmidt stated that western values must be the dominant values in AI platforms that influence everyday life such as ones that have key implications for democracy.

With all the consideration on how to make AI work so it is effective but also utilitarian, Kissinger noted how much human thinking must go into managing the “thinking” these machines do, and that “a mere technological edge is not in itself decisive” in terms of AI that can compete with adversaries such as China’s diplomatic technological might.

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Artificial Intelligence

Vaccine Makers Promote Use of Artificial Intelligence for Development

Artificial Intelligence assists in the development of vaccine research and trial testing, makers say.

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Najat Khan, Janssen’s research and development global head of strategy

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2021 – Artificial intelligence is helping accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Leaders in Janssen’s and Moderna’s research and development groups said Tuesday that AI will help drug makers create better, more effective vaccines for patients.

Speaking at Bloomberg’s Technology Summit on Tuesday, Najat Khan, Janssen’s research and development global head of strategy, said AI is speeding up the delivery of new vaccines for populations in need. (Janssen is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.)

“We use AI and machine learning to predict performance of clinical sites for potential [vaccine] trial sites,” Khan said. AI can help researchers target patients for trials to obtain more comprehensive data sets. Vaccine developers spend time, money, and resources finding patients to participate in clinical trials.

Khan said “only four percent” of eligible patients join a clinical trial. AI can help researchers focus their efforts to identify patients to participate, she said.

Outstanding concerns with AI

Despite AI’s usefulness in vaccine development, Khan said there is still a gap that exists between the information available in healthcare and what’s useful for AI. “There’s lots of data generated in health care, but it’s not connected,” Khan stated. “If it’s not connected, it’s fragmented.”

The problem, Khan said, is the varying systems health clinics use to input and store patients’ information. “Different systems across different clinics needs the same data,” Khan added. “I can go to two different clinics, each one year apart, and my data would be separate.”

On a large scale, mismatched datasets lead to “an over-index of patient information in some areas and an under-index in others,” she said.

For better innovation in treating and curing diseases, health providers need better ways to gather share data while complying with patient privacy concerns, Khan added.

One of health care providers’ challenges is effective data minimization and ensuring that health entities only use patient data according to the patient’s consent over the use of their data. The industry is starting to see progress with tokenization, Khan said, which anonymizes data and links with other data sources for a specific patient-focused purpose.

“This allows us to do even more with AI,” Khan said.

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