ACM's HuffPost Blog
Thought-Provoking Articles on Technology and Society
The HuffPost invited ACM to write a regular blog on topics in technology and society. ACM blog posts are intended to provide insightful, thought-provoking articles to HuffPost readers on a variety of computing and information technology topics, and show how computing and information technology are ubiquitous in our daily lives. ACM bloggers explore the impact of technology on society and how this impact may evolve in the future.
With careful algorithm design, computers can be fairer than typical human decision makers, despite biased training data, says Microsoft Research Distinguished Scientist and ACM Fellow Jennifer T. Chayes. She points to the positive trend of many computer scientists caring deeply about the fairness of machine learning algorithms, and cites an intelligent algorithm that looks at “protected attributes” like race or gender and then produces decisions that are sometimes less biased than human judgements.
IBM T.J. Watson Research Center's Shari Trewin highlights the ability of cognitive systems to engage with us, and the world, in more human-like ways. The ability to learn and generalize from examples is another important feature. Trewin says that through advances in machine learning, cognitive systems are rapidly improving their ability to see, to hear, and to interact with humans using natural language and gesture. In the process, they also become more able to support people with disabilities and the growing aging population.
Blockchain technology promises greater financial inclusion for people in developing countries, giving them access to an efficient system of securing their finances. It is also poised to open up a new market for the financial services industry to provide mortgages, loans, and other services to five billion people. Once realized, the distributed and decentralized power of Blockchain could enable the entire global economy to run simply on connected smartphones, without the cloud, servers, central entity, or government.
Paul Messina of the Argonne National Laboratory says the benefits of exascale computing range from engineering to energy conservation to healthcare, biology, and storm prediction. In addition, the use of exascale computing in urban science promises to mitigate health hazards, reduce crime, and improve quality of life in cities by optimizing infrastructure. Advances will flow from classical simulations but also from large-scale data analysis, deep machine learning, and often the integration of all three.
IBM's Guru Banavar reflects on the profound responsibilities computer scientists face in light of transformative developments in AI that will affect everything from financial services to transportation, energy, education, and healthcare. "It is no longer enough to advance the science of AI and the engineering of AI-based systems," he says. "We now shoulder the added burden of ensuring these technologies are developed, deployed and adopted in responsible, ethical and enduring ways."
Northeastern University's Alessandro Vespignani says that in the last two decades, infectious diseases have made an alarming comeback, with hundreds of newly emergent or re-emergent pathogens rallying against humankind. While public health data collected through traditional surveillance systems are still indispensable, a new era of opportunities has been ushered in by the availability of big data streams, such as electronic health records, social media, Internet, mobile phones, and remote sensors.
University of Washington's Kate Starbird and Emma Spiro explore different approaches to detecting online misinformation in the often-confusing social media space, including machine learning, explicit recommendation systems and recruiting online "crowdworkers" as detectives. But detecting misinformation is only a small part of the “fake news” problem. A more complex, socio-technical question is what to do next.
The number of software job openings is at an all-time high, and this is not likely to slow. Yet students are failing to learn the skills needed to fill these positions, according to University of Washington's Andrew J. Ko and Purdue University's Susanne Hambrusch. They point to computing education research as essential in figuring out how to teach coding and other skills more effectively.
Malware is just one of a multitude of Internet voting threats. Former ACM president Barbara Simons, USACM Vice Chair Jeremy Epstein, and USACM Security Committee Chair Alec Yasinsac also point to phishing and Distributed Denial of Service attacks, as well as the neccessity of keeping ballots secret, making authentication difficult. Developing a secure system would require solving some major cybersecurity open problems.
Stanford University's Mehran Sahami maintains that exposing students to computing early in their education is essential to their understanding of not just "programming" but of the world at large: "Learning CS helps students develop systemic thinking skills for problem solving, practice logical deduction, and learn to express themselves with greater precision and clarity."
Kosta Peric, deputy director for global development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses how the global revolution in mobile communications can be an important tool in alleviating world poverty. Mobile devices and other platforms allow the poor to handle their money securely and transfer it instantaneously. Challenges remain: Two billion adults around the world lack basic financial services like bank accounts.
Clemson University's Larry Hodges discusses benefits of VR, including alleviating anxiety and PTSD symptoms, providing immersive educational and travel experiences, and delivering pain reduction. Although these applications have been around for quite awhile, major companies are investing in new VR development to produce better, cheaper products.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich talks about how smart use of data can make efforts to promote diversity in organizations more effective. He also addresses the distinction between "diversity" and "inclusion," with the first about bringing a critical mass of difference into the workforce, and the second about empowering workers to truly participate.
ACM SIGCHI Past President Joe Konstan ponders the intricacies of those automated prompts and pings we routinely receive from our social networks. He describes some of the confusions that often arise as a result of "status updates," and provides helpful pointers for avoiding awkward exchanges with colleagues.
Mark Nelson, Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, explores the many challenges CS educators face now that the US government has launched new initiatives: defining CS, integrating lesson content with other curricula, determining teacher credentials, etc. Teachers are key players in this new landscape.
ACM Fellow and former ACM President David Patterson helped launch UC Berkeley's Algorithms, Machines and People (AMPLab), which explores the role big data may play in finding a cure for cancer and other diseases. He describes how the AMPLab, in collaboration with Microsoft Research and UC Santa Cruz, developed software that helped save a life.
ACM Past President Vint Cerf sees a future in which computing infuses all aspects of science and research. He also encourages computer scientists, programmers and data processing experts to inform the wider society of the benefits and potential hazards of a world steeped in computing.
Simply Secure co-founders Meredith Whittaker and Ben Laurie sound off on the Huffington Post about recent calls to ban strong encryption and force tech companies to offer law enforcement the means to decrypt all content and communications.
In this month's ACM Huffington Post blog, Steven Myers, an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Indiana University, examines the promises and limits of EMV chips and other efforts to reduce credit card fraud.