The many problems with automated decision making

I have written about automated decision making or machine learning for Computer Weekly, in particularly the numerous problems with using it. The biggest set of issues is summed up nicely by Joanna Bryson of Bath and Princeton universities: “The reason machine learning is working so well is it is leveraging human culture. It’s getting the bad with the good.”

Continue reading “The many problems with automated decision making”

Keeping paper voting: right policy, wrong reason

In six days, Britons will use stubby little pencils to put crosses next to people’s names on pieces of paper. In each of 650 areas, the person with the most crosses becomes a member of parliament. If more than half of those MPs come from one party, that party forms a government and its leader is prime minister. It’s easy to understand and trust.

If someone hacks your bank account, you will notice and will probably be able to get recompense. If someone hacks an election, you are unlikely to know unless your votes was published – which would rather undermine the concept of a secret ballot. Also, we can all understand people counting pieces of paper. Very few of us, including apparently many NHS organisations, can say likewise for computer security. Continue reading “Keeping paper voting: right policy, wrong reason”

The paranoid style in IT journalism

There’s a type of technology journalism which is the non-fiction equivalent of a horror story, the opposite of uncritical technophilia. Scaring readers is a pretty good way to hold their attention, but it doesn’t necessarily get to the heart of the story.

Earlier this month, The Register published my piece on Cambridge Analytica and its targeted political advertising based on online psychometric profiling. The company does itself no favours by not responding to questions, but I did speak to academic Michal Kosinski, who according to a widely-read article in Swiss publication Das Magazin (republished by Vice’s Motherboard section) ended up racked with guilt at having developed ideas in this area which Cambridge Analytica has since exploited. Continue reading “The paranoid style in IT journalism”

For organisations, Brexit means deal with it

Britain is a world-leader in genomics. When I heard George Freeman MP, the chair of the prime minister’s policy board, tell a conference that despite having voted Remain he thought Brexit could lead to a better regulatory framework for genomics, it sounded like a story. Computer Weekly published the resulting article last week.

UK organisations concerned with genomics didn’t seem to want to discuss it, however. Apart from a short statement from the Department of Health and Mr Freeman’s comments, I interviewed a specialist lawyer and Kari Stefansson, the founder of Icelandic genomics firm deCode Genetics, who suggested that public healthcare should only be available if patients participate in genomic research.

Organisations should be considering and talking about the opportunities Brexit brings, as well as working to mitigate its dangers. In public sector IT, some suppliers already serve the UK and other Anglophone countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, given similar legal and political structures; new trade deals could help expand this. And if Brexit allows regulatory changes that boost genomic research, they are surely worth considering. Continue reading “For organisations, Brexit means deal with it”

It’s Facebook wot wins votes

The Facebook fake news fuss is a distraction compared with the company’s bigger impact on politics: its ability to micro-target advertising based on its detailed knowledge of its users. As I wrote earlier this month for The Register, Facebook has helped the Conservatives to win the 2015 general election, pro-Brexit campaigners to win the referendum and Donald Trump the US presidency.

Facebook uses the Tory victory in its marketing to other political campaigners. As far as I can see it isn’t yet boasting about its role in Brexit, which included Leave.EU using Facebook to target racists until it got caught out by the Remain campaign. Continue reading “It’s Facebook wot wins votes”