Tag Archives: health

Bias in, bias out

Google Translate has developed an understanding of the meaning behind words so that it can translate directly from one language to another using the concepts behind phrases rather than a word by word translation.

This means it can be taught to translate from French to German and from German to Chinese and because it understands language at a conceptual level it can translate French into Chinese without going via German; it matches concepts not words.

Should we be worried by this latest revelation of a Neural Machine that has created its own internal language that nobody understands?

I’m not sure.

Imagine an algorithm to determine where to concentrate health-care research. If its inputs are biased towards one section of society, accidentally rather than by design, wouldn’t it develop a skewed view of the world?

Wouldn’t it favour some people over others?

Yes, but we already have a healthcare system that does that, don’t we? And, this could be less biased because it would be much more effective at using large volumes of data to determine the best outcome overall.

The difference is that in a world of “bias in, bias out” and opaque algorithms nobody, not even the creators, would know why it made the choices it did.

Maybe this is a price worth paying.

As this TechCrunch article says, “Neural networks may be complex, mysterious and little creepy, but it’s hard to argue with their effectiveness.”


photo credit: Adi Korndörfer … brilliant ideas via photopin (license)

An evening of prosthetic reality

Prosthetic envy. That was the theme of the Virtual Futures Salon at the end of last month.

Three out of four panellists had prosthetic limbs and were keen to talk openly about what that meant for them. One of them was James A.H. Young who you may have seen on the BBC recently.

They told their stories, pondered and discussed what had led to them having prosthetics, how good their limbs actually are and what the general public’s reaction is like.

Surprisingly, they had stories of people exlaiming how ‘cool’ the prosthetics are and asking how they could get one. To which, of course, there’s a reply which includes, ‘you’ll have to cut a limb off first.’

Luke Robert Mason introduced the evening, referring to Limbo ’90, which is a book I read as part of my research for the evening’s story, Loans for Limbs. It’s a 1950 book by Bernard Wolfebilled as being the first book to “project the present-day concept known as ‘cybernetics’ to its logical and terrifying conclusion.” It’s well worth a read.

Here’s me reading Loans for Limbs for the first time in public.

Afterwards, some of the audience asked me how to get a written copy; if you join my mailing list before 17 June you’ll get it in the June email a few days later.


If you liked this you might also like the free near-future collection: S{t}imulation, Foodflix and Joined At The Chip.


photo credit: Roboarm via photopin (license)