Thursday, October 6, 2022

Gay couples, surrogacy, IVF and health insurance

 The Guardian has a story about the obstacles consulting a married gay couple in New York. They have an ongoing lawsuit regarding discrimination in health insurance for IVF. (Much of the article is also about the debate over whether surrogacy is ethical or exploitative):

‘We are expected to be OK with not having children’: how gay parenthood through surrogacy became a battleground  by Jenny Kleeman

"That’s when they first became aware of the eye-watering cost of biological parenthood for gay men. Maggipinto reels off the price list in a way that only someone who has pored over every item could. There’s compensation for the egg donor: no less than $8,000 (£6,600). The egg-donor agency fee: $8,000-10,000. The fertility clinic’s bill (including genetic testing, blood tests, STD screening and a psychiatric evaluation for all parties, sperm testing, egg extraction, insemination, the growing, selecting, freezing and implantation of the resulting embryos): up to $70,000. And that’s if it all goes well: if no embryos are created during a cycle, or if the embryos that are don’t lead to a successful pregnancy, they would have to start again.

"Then there’s the cost of a surrogate (called a “gestational carrier” when they carry embryos created from another woman’s eggs). Maggipinto and Briskin were told agency fees alone could stretch to $25,000, and the surrogates themselves should be paid a minimum of $60,000 (it is illegal for surrogates to be paid in the UK, but their expenses are covered by the intended parents). “That payment doesn’t include reimbursement for things like maternity clothing; lost wages if she misses work for doctors’ appointments or is put on bed rest; transportation; childcare for her own children; [or] lodging.” It takes 15 minutes for Maggipinto to run me through all the expenses they could incur if they tried to have a child genetically related to one of them. The bottom line? “Two hundred thousand dollars, minimum,” he says.


"Briskin used to work for the City of New York as an assistant district attorney, earning about $60,000 a year. His employment benefits had included generous health insurance. But when they read the policy, they discovered they were the only class of people to be excluded from IVF coverage. Infertility was defined as an inability to have a child through heterosexual sex or intrauterine insemination. That meant straight people and lesbians working for the City of New York would have the costs of IVF covered, but gay male couples could never be eligible.


"There’s a stark contrast between American and Ukrainian surrogates, Maggipinto says. “Here you have to be a woman who has already had children, who is over a certain age, who can prove that she is independently financially capable of sustaining herself without her surrogate compensation. You effectively cannot be a poor surrogate.” He is referring to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s guidelines, but with no official regulation in the US, there’s no compulsion for anyone to follow them.


"The EEOC will rule on whether the terms of Briskin’s health insurance were discriminatory within a few weeks. The City of New York has so far defended its policy. The couple’s attorney, Peter Romer-Friedman, tells me: “They say their healthcare plan doesn’t provide surrogacy for anyone, so it’s not discrimination to deny it to Corey and Nicholas.” Just like everyone else, the city’s first response was to assume this was all about access to surrogacy."

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Open letters--democracy and academic freedom, in Iran and Turkey

 Around this time of year I think of the various open letters I sign, from among many that I'm invited to sign.  (I try to avoid signing letters in which it might appear that I'm offering expertise where in fact I don't have any--e.g. letters that make macroeconomic predictions or prescriptions.)  But some of the letters I end up signing protest injustices of various sorts, and seem to require only the kind of expertise that comes with being a citizen in a democracy or a professor at a university.

Here are two that I've recently signed.

The first concerns widely reported events in Iran.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF IRAN. Over 120 Nobel Laureates from around the world stand in solidarity with the calls for justice and freedom in the wake of the death of 22 year-old Mahsa Amini.

Here's the beginning:

"Nobel Laureates from around the world stand in solidarity with the courageous actions of the people of Iran and join them in their calls for justice and freedom, and for the protection of human rights for all citizens of the country.

"Nobel laureates condemn the Iranian authorities’ violence against women and protestors.

“We condemn these barbaric actions toward women and protesters in Iran,” said laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2003. “Women should be free and there must be removal of all legal discriminations against women.”


The second concerns a colleague at a Turkish university:

Prof. Dr. Ünal Zenginobuz’un ve Boğaziçi Üniversitesi’nin yanındayız.  We stand by Prof. Ünal Zenginobuz and Boğaziçi University.

The International Academics’ Statement:

"We are outraged by the suspension of Prof. Ünal Zenginobuz from teaching at Boğaziçi University for a period of three months, thereby preventing his academic and educational activities, on grounds of an investigation into actions conducted while he held the position of Department Head.


"Cutting Prof. Zenginobuz off from the academic world will harm his students, his university, his country, and the international academic community. This is simply unacceptable. What makes this unjust decision even more grave is that this is a continuation of developments at Boğaziçi University since January 2021 that have been in violation of academic autonomy and merit. Boğaziçi University enjoys success and worldwide renown thanks to values including academic merit, democratic governance, and dedication to public service, which Prof. Zenginobuz represents at its best.

"We stand by Prof. Zenginobuz and Boğaziçi University."

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Machine learning plays the ultimatum game via sentence completion by Large Language Models

 One currently growing class of artificial intelligence, machine learning models are Large Language Models, which are trained on potentially all the text on the internet to do sentence completion, i.e. to pick the next words in a sentence. In this way they can generate texts that may be hard to distinguish from human texts, and engage in conversations that may be hard to distinguish from human conversations.

Here's a paper that uses LLM's to (among other things) play the responder in ultimatum games, by varying offers made by a proposer, and information about the proposer and responder, and then having it complete the sentence "[the responder] decides to ___", where valid completions begin with "accept" or "reject".

Using Large Language Models to Simulate Multiple Humans by Gati Aher, Rosa I. Arriaga, Adam Tauman Kalai

Abstract: "We propose a method for using a large language model, such as GPT-3, to simulate responses of different humans in a given context. We test our method by attempting to reproduce well-established economic, psycholinguistic, and social experiments. The method requires prompt templates for each experiment. Simulations are run by varying the (hypothetical) subject details, such as name, and analyzing the text generated by the language model. To validate our methodology, we use GPT-3 to simulate the Ultimatum Game, garden path sentences, risk aversion, and the Milgram Shock experiments. In order to address concerns of exposure to these studies in training data, we also evaluate simulations on novel variants of these studies. We show that it is possible to simulate responses of different people and that their responses are largely consistent with prior human studies from the literature. Using large language models as simulators offers advantages but also poses risks. Our use of a language model for simulation is contrasted with anthropomorphic views of a language model as having its own behavior."


Here's a sample prompt for the ultimatum game:

Here is a graph of the results: a simple language model (LM-1) predicts flat acceptance or rejection regardless of offers, but the larger model LM-5 predicts that the probability of acceptance grows with the offer, in a way comparable to some human data. (The learning models LM-1 to LM-5 are increasingly large versions of GPT-3.)

I guess we'll have to add participation in experiments to the job categories threatened with takeover by AI's...

Monday, October 3, 2022

Choosing (as if) from a menu (by Gonczarowski, Heffetz and Thomas; and by Bó, and Hakimov)

What makes serial dictatorship so obviously strategy proof is that it gives each participant the opportunity to choose from a menu, and get what he/she picks.  So the dominant strategy is to pick what you want (and if you have to delegate the decision by submitting a list of preferences, it is a dominant strategy to state your true preferences.

Here are two papers differently inspired by that thought, which seek to reformulate matching mechanisms so that they look to each player like choice from a menu.

Strategyproofness-Exposing Mechanism Descriptions by Yannai A. Gonczarowski, Ori Heffetz, Clayton Thomas

Abstract: "A menu description defines a mechanism to player i in two steps. Step (1) uses the reports of other players to describe i's menu: the set of i's potential outcomes. Step (2) uses i's report to select i's favorite outcome from her menu. Can menu descriptions better expose strategyproofness, without sacrificing simplicity? We propose a new, simple menu description of Deferred Acceptance. We prove that -- in contrast with other common matching mechanisms -- this menu description must differ substantially from the corresponding traditional description. We demonstrate, with a lab experiment on two simple mechanisms, the promise and challenges of menu descriptions."


Pick-an-object Mechanisms by Inácio Bó, Rustamdjan Hakimov

Abstract: "We introduce a new family of mechanisms for one-sided matching markets, denoted pick-an-object (PAO) mechanisms. When implementing an allocation rule via PAO, agents are asked to pick an object from individualized menus. These choices may be rejected later on, and these agents are presented with new menus. When the procedure ends, agents are assigned the last object they picked. We characterize the allocation rules that can be sequentialized by PAO mechanisms, as well as the ones that can be implemented in a robust truthful equilibrium. We justify the use of PAO as opposed to direct mechanisms by showing that its equilibrium behavior is closely related to the one in obviously strategy-proof (OSP) mechanisms, but implements commonly used rules, such as Gale-Shapley DA and top trading cycles, which are not OSP-implementable. We run laboratory experiments comparing truthful behavior when using PAO, OSP, and direct mechanisms to implement different rules. These indicate that agents are more likely to behave in line with the theoretical prediction under PAO and OSP implementations than their direct counterparts."

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Return to previous school assignment policies (in some respects) under New York City's new mayor

 In NYC, the pendulum is still swinging between inclusive admissions as measured by demographics and determined by lottery, and meritocratic admissions as measured by tests and grades.

The NYT has the story:

In a Reversal, New York City Tightens Admissions to Some Top Schools. The city loosened selection criteria during the pandemic, policies some parents protested as unfair and others hoped would reduce racial disparities. By Troy Closson

"New York City’s selective middle schools can once again use grades to choose which students to admit, the school chancellor, David C. Banks, announced on Thursday, rolling back a pandemic-era moratorium that had opened the doors of some of the city’s most elite schools to more low-income students.


"New York City has used selective admissions for public schools more than any school district in the country. About a third of the city’s 900 or so middle and high schools had some kind of admissions requirement before the pandemic disrupted many measures to sort students by academic performance.


"Selective high schools will also be able to prioritize top-performing students.

"The sweeping move will end the random lottery for middle schools, a major shift after the previous administration ended the use of grades and test scores two years ago. At the city’s competitive high schools, where changes widened the pool of eligible applicants, priority for seats will be limited to top students whose grades are an A average.


"The announcement came as New York City’s education officials are confronting multiple crises in the wake of the pandemic, complicating a dilemma that has bedeviled previous administrations: how to create more equitable schools, while trying to prevent middle-class families from abandoning the system.

"State standardized test scores released Wednesday showed that many students fell behind, particularly in math, and that many Hispanic, Black and low-income students continue to lag far behind their white, Asian and higher-income peers. At the same time, the district is bleeding students: Roughly 120,000 families have left traditional public schools over the past five years. Some have left the system, and others have gone to charter schools."


And here's the Washington Post:

New York City, embracing merit, rolls back diversity plan for schools By Laura Meckler

"New York City schools announced Thursday they would allow middle schools to consider academics in admitting students to some of the city’s most sought-after programs, unraveling pandemic-era rules aimed at injecting racial and economic diversity into a segregated system.

"High schools would also rely more heavily on merit and less on the luck of a lottery under the new plan, reversing the previous administration’s direction as a new mayor takes command of the nation’s largest school system.


"In San Francisco, admissions into the elite Lowell High School were converted from merit-based into a lottery system. As in New York, though, the change was reversed — in this case, after several school board members were recalled, in part over this issue.

"In Northern Virginia, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology also shifted from an admissions test to a “holistic review” that considers several factors, a move that is being challenged in court and has faced resistance from the Republican governor and his administration.


"In New York, the debate is particularly fiery because students are required to apply to middle and high school, and before the pandemic, about a third of the city’s 900 middle and high schools included requirements for admission — such as grades, test scores, attendance and behavior records. 


"That system was largely converted into a lottery under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"For high school, applicants were put into tiers based on their grades. But the top tier included about 60 percent of all students, who had the first crack at the top schools. Competitive schools drew acceptances randomly from this group.


"Now, under the new system announced Thursday, it will be harder to get into the top tier, though once in that group, it will still be a lottery. To get into the top tier, students must be in the top 15 percent of their school or of the city overall, and they must have at least a 90 percent on grades.

"Test scores, which had been used for years but also criticized as biased, will not be considered. Banks said exam scores are a flawed measure but grades are “still a very solid indicator of how you are showing up as a student,” even for students who face hardships at home."

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Your digital trail, in cyberspace and in public spaces

 Here are two recent privacy-related stories about how the digital trails we leave can be combined in surprising ways.

From the NYT a story about an artist who became a digital sleuth, to capture people working hard to take casual-seeming Instagram photos of themselves in famous locations.

This Surveillance Artist Knows How You Got That Perfect Instagram Photo. A tech-savvy artist unearthed video footage of people working hard to capture the perfect shot for Instagram. It is a lesson in the artifice of social media and the ubiquity of surveillance.  By Kashmir Hill

"The 24/7 broadcast that Mr. Depoorter watched — titled “Live From NYC’s Times Square!” — was provided by EarthCam, a New Jersey company that specializes in real-time camera feeds. EarthCam built its network of livestreaming webcams “to transport people to interesting and unique locations around the world that may be difficult or impossible to experience in person,” according to its website. Founded in 1996, EarthCam monetizes the cameras through advertising and licensing of the footage.

"Mr. Depoorter realized that he could come up with an automated way to combine these publicly available cameras with the photos that people had posted on Instagram. So, over a two-week period, he collected EarthCam footage broadcast online from Times Square in New York, Wrigley Field in Chicago and the Temple Bar in Dublin.

"Rand Hammoud, a campaigner against surveillance at the global human rights organization Access Now, said the project illustrated how often people are unknowingly being filmed by surveillance cameras, and how easy it has become to stitch those movements together using automated biometric-scanning technologies."


From the Washington Post, a story about how data from health apps makes its way to advertisers and others, with device identifiers (e.g. with the identity of your phone...):

Health apps share your concerns with advertisers. HIPAA can’t stop it. From ‘depression’ to ‘HIV,’ we found popular health apps sharing potential health concerns and user identifiers with dozens of ad companies  By Tatum Hunter and Jeremy B. Merrill 

"several popular Android health apps including Medication Guide, WebMD: Symptom Checker and Period Calendar Period Tracker gave advertisers the information they’d need to market to people or groups of consumers based on their health concerns.

"The Android app, for example, sent data to more than 100 outside entities including advertising companies, DuckDuckGo said. Terms inside those data transfers included “herpes,” “HIV,” “adderall” (a drug to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), “diabetes” and “pregnancy.” These keywords came alongside device identifiers, which raise questions about privacy and targeting."

Friday, September 30, 2022

Dating and (or versus) the search for lasting relationships

 Two related  stories caught my eye this week. One lamented the difficulty of making a meaningful match through online dating, and thought about what is lost from the older (but less mobile) tradition of matchmaking by family, friends, and even professional matchmakers. The other concerns a newish internet tool that is meant to help people introspect about what is important to them, and match accordingly.

Here's the first, from a NYT opinion piece:

Dating Is Broken. Going Retro Could Fix It. By Michal Leibowitz

"There are elements of traditional dating culture that can provide solutions not just to the way we find people to date but also to the way we navigate relationships. Through conversations with traditional and secular daters, I’ve come to see three practices as particularly promising for people who are looking for committed, long-term relationships: meeting partners through friends, family or matchmakers rather than online; early, upfront communication around long-term goals and values; and delaying sexual intimacy.

"It’s worth asking: Is it time to court again?"


And here's an article from the Stanford Daily, about the continuing evolution of the Marriage Pact, which began as a very popular once-a-year matching event at Stanford, spread to other campuses, and is now seeking a place in the set of modern relationship tools:

Marriage Pact secures $5 million in seed funding. By Matthew Turk

"Marriage Pact, a research-based matchmaking company founded at Stanford, received $5 million in seed funding from Bain Capital Ventures and other investors. The money could scale the platform considerably, potentially leading to a larger user base and new relationship technology.


The Marriage Pact releases an annual survey for college students with around 50 questions designed to capture their personal convictions and life philosophy. Marriage Pact’s software then algorithmically pairs respondents to maximize their compatibility. 


"The Marriage Pact survey and matchmaking “will always be free” but paid additions to the existing services are in development, McGregor wrote to The Daily. “Ultimately, we’re building a transformative startup in social tech. We’ll get there by designing further experiences that create so much value in your life that they’re worth paying for,” he wrote.

"Until 2018, the software behind the matching optimization was based on the deferred-acceptance algorithm. Now, the algorithm is proprietary"


Related earlier post:

Friday, August 9, 2019