Artificial Intelligence “Gaydar”

Those of us who study the digital society have a complex set of issues around the data we use to study it. A recent public debate about new research article on aritificial intelligence is an example of the tensions facing all social scientists in the digital society. A summary, from the The Guardian is an example of how the media first reported the new article’s findings:

The issues are multi-fold. First, that isn’t really what the study is about. Second, the study’s authors argue that they were studying technologies already in use to explore how they might marginalize already marginalized groups of people. Third, the issue of who owns the data we share on social media sites, in this instance a dating app, can be used by researchers engages lots of issues with terms of service agreements, copyright, fair use, and research ethics.

Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland (among other notable distinctions), had this to say about the issue in Inside Higher Education today:

The issues of copyright, ethics, reproducibility, and practical significance are all challenges for data collection, systematic research and analysis in the digital era. Like most debates in social science the guiding concern should be does the practical significance of a study outweigh the risks to individuals and actors? Whether we always agree on the answer, it is a question sure to become ever more salient as we wrestle with how to study inequality in the digital society.



The Digital Sociology Magazine is the public-facing community of the digital sociology program in the Department of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University. We study intersecting inequalities in the digital society.

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