Why Upturn is joining the Partnership on AI

Computers decide more and more of what happens in our lives: When we find a new job or a new place to live; when we’re pulled out of line at the airport, or frisked by police; when we hear about (or don’t hear about) the neighborhood block party or protest march, there’s a good chance that a computer played a key role. And a major driver for all this change is artificial intelligence — where the computer does what a person used to do, often by automatically finding patterns in data. As these new systems grow to touch all of our lives, they need to reflect all of our values.

That’s Upturn’s calling. Ever since we launched, we’ve worked to make sure that technology serves the dignity and well-being of everyone it touches, breaking down barriers and building bridges among policymakers, engineers and executives, and communities, especially people at the margins whose voices might otherwise get missed. That’s why Upturn is excited to be joining the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society, alongside leading companies and many of our friends across the social sector, to explore these issues, build shared understanding across sectors, and to consider best practices for the technology as it advances.

Artificial intelligence could bring greater opportunity for everyone and make society a fairer, more equitable place, but the best case won’t happen by default. These technologies are proliferating across social contexts, often before communities have the opportunity to understand them or give meaningful input into how they should work. Governments and administrative agencies are harnessing algorithms to give out social services and to tell the police who to focus on, and machine learning informs decisions ranging from credit scoring, to hiring, to the form and flow of political discourse.

As data and the capacity to analyze it increasingly concentrate in the private sector, companies and the social sector must build bridges and work hard together to ensure artificial intelligence works for everyone, and to prevent it from learning and reflecting biases that are entrenched in society today.

As Upturn turns more attention toward the challenges of AI, we look forward to continuing to connect with the engineers and executives who build and run today’s AI systems. We’ll follow the same facts-first, solutions-oriented approach that we’ve proven out over the past few years, which has led major online platforms to take meaningful steps like banning online ads for predatory “payday” loans and strengthening prohibitions against discriminatory ads for housing, employment and credit.

The uncertain legal and policy frameworks around machine learning and AI mean it is all the more important for companies to think proactively about the short and long term social impact of these technologies, and to take on the charge of deeply reflecting — together with civil society — about how to most responsibly develop and deploy these tools and systems. We are optimistic that the Partnership on AI will create space for these important discussions, and look forward to working with all the other participants to candidly, creatively, constructively explore this new terrain.

Writer & idea wrangler. I make lenses for looking at technology and its human impacts. Visiting Scientist @CornellCIS.

Writer & idea wrangler. I make lenses for looking at technology and its human impacts. Visiting Scientist @CornellCIS.