The robots are coming

We may have helped create the AI monster here in the Hub, but it turns out we’re also the ones fighting to keep it on a leash, with a Justice League of passionate geeks working furiously to ensure the technology is used for the public good. The MIT Media Lab, for example, is building a system that allows you to control your own Facebook news feed rather than leaving it up to the mega company’s closed algorithms to decide what you see and in what order. Meanwhile, professors at Harvard Law School are working on ways to eliminate unfair bias as algorithms seep into the justice system, and other local leaders are trying to coordinate an international treaty that preemptively bans fully autonomous combat machines.

Some of this is happening under the umbrella of a new $27 million research fund, administered in part by the MIT Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (where I am a fellow). They’re starting to bring together technologists, lawyers, ethicists, and others to get ahead of the negative effects—and realize the broader societal promise—of AI by asking some very serious questions: Who, if anyone, reviews whether machines work as intended? What data fuels the machines’ algorithms, and who designs and uses those algorithms? And who ultimately wins and loses in the battle to automate every aspect of our lives?

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