Friday, April 26, 2019

Repugnant blood samples (for gender testing in pregnancy) in China

The South China Morning Post has the story: blood samples for gender tests apparently are a leading indicator of abortion of female fetuses:

Chinese blood mule, 12, caught trying to smuggle 142 samples into Hong Kong for sex testing
"Youngster apprehended at Shenzhen port with more than 1.4 litres of blood from expectant mothers in her backpack
Samples had papers requesting DNA tests to show if fetuses were male or female"

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Should NYC school choice diversify school assignments to match applicant demographics?

Some commentators are concerned that features closely correlated with race, for example, can be used in computerized algorithms that don't explicitly use race (see previous two posts here and here). But below is a proposal that sees using features correlated with race as an advantage for achieving diversity in NYC schools, with a view towards making admissions look as diverse as applications.

Here's a report from FastCompany:

How to fix segregation in NYC schools? Let students hack the algorithm
A Nobel Prize winner’s algorithm helps decide which students are placed in which New York schools. A team of students is trying to upgrade it.

"Many of the most desirable, highest-performing schools have a gross disparity between the racial breakdown of who applies versus who eventually attends those schools.

"Data acquired from the Department of Education by IntegrateNYC through a freedom of information request and provided to Fast Company bleakly demonstrates this point. For instance, while white students accounted for one quarter of students who applied in 2017 to Beacon High School, 42% of that Fall’s freshman class was white. At Eleanor Roosevelt High School, 16% of applicants that year were black, yet less than 1% of admitted students were black.
"Part of the problem is that the education children receive from kindergarten to eighth grade is not equal. Students who live in more affluent, largely white neighborhoods have better middle schools, which better prepare students for high school entrance exams. Students from wealthier families are also more likely to be able to afford private test prep for their students. But the city’s current admissions process does nothing to correct this.
"The solution students came up with was to create a new matchmaking algorithm that prioritizes factors highly correlated with race such as a student’s census tract, whether they receive free or reduced-price lunch, and whether English is their second language. Such an algorithm would boost disadvantaged students higher up in the matchmaking process, provided they have already passed a school’s screening process."

In NYC, school principals have a lot of agency in determining the input of the school matching algorithm, in the form of preference lists for their schools. The city (i.e. the NYCDOE) provides guidelines for schools. So another approach to achieving more and different diversity would be to provide different guidelines and requirements for schools, that would change the inputs to the matching algorithm (the schools' rank order lists of students), rather than trying to modify the algorithm. My guess is that this would be a more effective, nuanced, and flexible approach.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Insurance, privacy, surveillance, algorithms, and repugnance

The NY Times is on the case:

Insurers Want to Know How Many Steps You Took Today
The cutting edge of the insurance industry involves adjusting premiums and policies based on new forms of surveillance.
By Sarah Jeong

"Last year, the life insurance company John Hancock began to offer its customers the option to wear a fitness tracker — a wearable device that can collect information about how active you are, how many calories you burn, and how much you sleep. The idea is that your Fitbit or Apple Watch can tell whether or not you’re living the good, healthy life — and if you are, your insurance premium will go down.
"artificial intelligence is known to reproduce biases that aren’t explicitly coded into it. In the field of insurance, this turns into “proxy discrimination.” For example, an algorithm might (correctly) conclude that joining a Facebook group for a BRCA1 mutation is an indicator of high risk for a health insurance company. Even though actual genetic information — which is illegal to use — is never put into the system, the algorithmic black box ends up reproducing genetic discrimination.

"A ZIP code might become a proxy for race; a choice of wording in a résumé might become a proxy for gender; a credit card purchase history can become a proxy for pregnancy status. Legal oversight of insurance companies, which are typically regulated by states, mostly looks at discrimination deemed to be irrational: bias based on race, sex, poverty or genetics. It’s not so clear what can be done about rational indicators that are little but proxies for factors that would be illegal to consider.
"A. I. research should march on. But when it comes to insurance in particular, there are unanswered questions about the kind of biases that are acceptable. Discrimination based on genetics has already been deemed repugnant, even if it’s perfectly rational. Poverty might be a rational indicator of risk, but should society allow companies to penalize the poor? Perhaps for now, A.I.’s more dubious consumer applications are better left in a laboratory."

HT: Julio Elias

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Ethical algoritms: a recent talk and a forthcoming book

Increasingly, algorithms are decision makers. Here's a recent talk, and a book forthcoming in October, about what we might mean by ethical decision making by algorithms.

And here's the forthcoming book:
 The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design Hardcover – November 1, 2019
by Michael Kearns (Author), Aaron Roth  (Author)

Monday, April 22, 2019

Gun sales in America: both repugnant and protected transactions

Two stories remind me of the special status of gun sales in the U.S., and the corresponding political divisions between those who would like to see them more regulated (i.e. those who regard at least some gun sales as repugnant) and those who see regulation as a threat to the special protections offered guns by the U.S. constitution, whose second amendment states
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

From the NY Times:
When Sheriffs Say No: Disputes Erupt Over Enforcing New Gun Laws

"New Mexico’s governor is feudingwith county sheriffs, accusing them of going “rogue” by refusing to enforce new gun control legislation. Counties in Oregon are passing militia-backed measures against stricter gun laws. Washington State is warning sheriffsthey could face legal action if they don’t run enhanced background checks approved by voters.
"As states have approved dozens of restrictive gun control measures since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last year, efforts to resist such laws have gathered strength around the nation as rural gun owners say their rights are being violated.
"In New Mexico and elsewhere, the disputes generally reflect tension between cities that support stricter gun laws and rural areas that want to bolster protections for gun owners. The pushback against new laws generally seeks to maintain existing gun ownership rights; most have not yet been challenged in court.
"The disputes around the country over the gun control measures raise vexing questions about the rule of law. Governors claim that local sheriffs cannot pick which laws to enforce, but some states have already grappled with low compliance with other gun laws.
A different aspect of the story is addressed by the New Yorker:

"in recent years, burglaries at gun shops and other federal firearms licensees have increased, from three hundred and seventy-seven, in 2012, to five hundred and seventy-seven, in 2017. This is partly because guns are so readily available. There are some sixty-three thousand licensed gun dealers in America—more than twice the number of McDonald’s and Starbucks locations combined. These retailers operate out of storefronts, pawnshops, and homes. (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives doesn’t specify how many dealers are based in homes, but officials say that the majority of thefts occur in brick-and-mortar stores.) Federal regulators have set strict security protocols for other businesses that deal in dangerous products. Pharmacies must lock opioids and other controlled substances in fortified cabinets. Explosives makers have to keep volatile materials in boxes or rooms capable of withstanding explosions. Banks, in order to maintain federal deposit insurance, have to hire security officers. But there are no such requirements for gun stores, and criminals are taking advantage. Between 2012 and 2017, burglars stole more than thirty-two thousand firearms from gun dealers. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

"Rich meet beautiful" site prosecuted in Belgium

The Guardian has the story:

'Sugar daddy' website owner charged with debauchery in Belgium
Norwegian Sigurd Vedal’s site Rich Meet Beautiful promised to help students meet rich men

"The chief executive of a pan-European “sugar daddy” dating site that targeted students with adverts outside Belgian universities last summer has appeared in court charged with debauchery.

"Norwegian Sigurd Vedal, 47, whose website Rich Meet Beautiful claimed to offer a “Fifty Shades of Grey” experience to young women, is being prosecuted following a complaint by the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
"After success in Scandinavia, the Norwegian company behind the website said it aimed to recruit 300,000 Belgian registrations by the end of 2018, but it was forced to end its marketing campaign after an outcry. Similar sites have emerged in the UK targeting female students. The US-based was found in 2015 to be offering premium membership to users with a university email address.

"Vedal appeared in Brussels criminal court on charges of debauchery, public incitement to debauchery and violating anti-sexism laws."

Earlier post:

Sunday, April 12, 2009  Market for sugar daddies

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Recent innovations in organ donation

Here's a quick summary of novel (and sometimes controversial) ways to organize kidney exchange (global kidney exchange, and advanced donation vouchers), and liver transplantation (including liver exchange, and including kidneys and livers in the same exchange). It's published under the heading "CONTROVERSIES IN ORGAN TRANSPLANTATION".

Evolving  swaps  in  transplantation:  global  exchange,vouchers,  liver,  and  trans-organ  paired  exchange
Alexis  L.  Lo,  Elizabeth  M.  Sonnenberg,  and  Peter  L.  Abt
Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation
Issue: Volume 24(2), April 2019, p 161-166

Purpose of review
With the ongoing organ shortage, several mechanisms to facilitate organ exchanges and expand thescope of living kidney or liver donation have been proposed. Although each addresses at least one barrier to transplantation, these innovative programs raise important ethical, logistical, and regulatory considerations.

Recent findings
This review addresses four recent proposals to expand living donor transplantation. For kidney transplantation, we discuss global paired exchange and advanced donation programs (’vouchers’) and for liver transplantation, liver paired exchange. Lastly, this review considers trans-organ exchange. We explore the conceptual framework of the exchange, current status, benefits, and concerns for  each of these evolving pathways.

Through highlighting novel mechanisms in organ exchange, greater awareness, discussion, or support can occur to create more avenues for transplantation. These innovative mechanisms require regulations and safeguards for donors to ensure informed consent, and proper follow-up is maintained."