Tackling Bias in Machine Learning, AI and Humanity


I nearly tweeted about a dozen responses back to Mr. Hamner, repeatedly however, I pulled up short. The nuance in this tweet is an enormous comment on where we are at in our discussion on AI and its interactions with humanity. Let me start with some thoughts and then we can dissect each one

  1. Direct reference to fixing ML bias being easier to fix than bias in humans
  2. Implication that overcoming bias in ML is more valuable than in humans
  3. Implication that some people are far more comfortable with machines than people
  4. A subtle undertone picked up by me, about corporate perspective, should bias be fixed (to be clear, I do not believe, this is not Mr. Hamner’s intent)?

Direct reference to fixing ML bias being easier to fix than bias in humans

I cannot imagine what the evidence for this argument looks like. I recognize that as a CTO, Mr. Hammer’s comfort level with machines is pretty high, but likewise an ethics professor is probably more comfortable working on bias at the human level. So are we talking about skill sets? Or is there a belief that rooting out Machine Learning (ML) bias is genuinely easy. If it is so easy, why isn’t it being done already and comprehensively. I reckon that it is not easy to identify and often hidden.

If it is easy to identify, then we should talk Mr. Hamner, because I would like to benefit from your expertise and partner with you in order to bring those benefits to the rest of the Machine Learning community on behalf of humanity. Especially to those groups who experience bias. It’s a worthy endeavor to be sure and I certainly hope that Mr. Hamner is right. If ML bias is easily identifiable then AI can go a long way to eliminating bias in our evaluation of data/markets and our decision making process. Humanity will have a lot to gain by eliminating bias.

Should you be wrong, and it is difficult to root out bias in our algorithms and in our data sets, then we are at the same place where humanity sits now, with institutionalized bias, but we are about to expand its reach. Not only would these biases be pervasive in our culture, but they would be codified in our artificial intelligence. I do hope that Mr. Hamner and others are well equipped to tackle this problem. ForHumanity stands ready to work with those who feel they have a good handle on this issue and to develop ways to make it a fundamental part of all AI and ML development.

Implication that overcoming bias in ML is more valuable than in humans

This implication made me uncomfortable. Not because I think Mr. Hamner is wrong, but rather I am concerned that he is right. One of the great things about ML and AI is that it often can be broken down into discrete building blocks. Fully observable data, transparent algorithms and dedicated processes may allow us to quantify the source of bias. If and when that is true, we may find it a fairly straightforward process to identify and readjust bias in our ML processes. However, today, we know that many deep learning processes are quite opaque to their designers. These technique have become so “deep” that their designers frequently are unsure why/how they work. This fact, for me, is worrisome, especially when considering bias. In these types of processes, if bias is introduced it may prove exceedingly difficult to remove. So, given the complexity of some of the ML going on today, we can be certain that perfect compliance is literally impossible. I remain optimistic, with Mr. Hamner, that in some ML we can identify and remove bias. Where we can, we should and it should be done post haste.

So then the question is, is it easier than overcoming bias in humans. Humans often obfuscate. Their data sets are not transparent, their algorithms completely opaque and their processes far from dedicated. But instead, humans have a will. They may even have a desire to change and seek out the elimination of their bias, especially when confronted with them. This is a societal decision, do we work with each other to face our bias, and then work to change them. This can only happen when we wake up and realize that all of humanity has EQUAL value. Minorities and Majorities, Each race, Each gender, Each sexual orientation, Each Faith or non-Faith, Each Political Party, Each Age and the list can go on and on. But we do not believe this today. Take our political discourse currently, each side thinks the other is either lunatics or ignorant. The answer is that neither is right.

The more value each member of our society places in each other member, the easier it is to eliminate bias. In fact, you would have changed the will of the people. Instead of hiding behind their bias, or worse yet, not even recognizing it, people will actively improve. Seeking out ways to eliminate their bias and increase the value that they can receive through equality. All very dreamy, I know, but it is a good dream and should be a goal.

This is all quite a long answer to the question of is ML bias easier to root out than human bias. But the answer is unsurprisingly, it depends. For certain situations and people, when confronted well by their peers and approached from an aspect of healing versus judgement, then I believe humans are easier to heal from bias, than any machine. Faced with the most difficult curmudgeon, who simply will not realize that all people have value, then the ML bias removal will be significantly easier and Mr. Hamner will be correct.

Implication that some people are far more comfortable with machines than people

This undertone to Mr. Hamner’s tweet makes me sad. Number one, I know this is a very accurate implication and two, I think it is increasing. If people are increasingly more comfortable with their machines, I believe they will actually be damaging their humanity, especially when that machine becomes the center of their focus. Even if our machines and our technology make our lives easier, do they make them better? From a microeconomic level, the answer is almost always “yes”, they do make them better. Otherwise, how else did that technology come into being? If you look at a cybernetically linked prosthetic that returns the ability of a person to have a hand and use it with their mind, with the same dexterity and functionality as before they lost their limb, there is beauty in that. A deep beauty that stirs the soul and endears the development of technology to the masses.

But from another more macro-economic perspective, our technology may have consequences we don’t realize. More importantly, I am certain that people, broadly speaking do not realize that much of our lives today are based on a MASSIVE assumption. An assumption that society will continue in its present form. Take GPS… a marvelous convenience to be sure. All maps at the ready, voice activated directions to allow you to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Understandably, everyone uses it. But do people even realize anymore that knowing where you are, how to get from here to there and maybe most importantly, being able to read a map were once life and death skills. Failure to have those skills, meant certain death for some. It is easy to assume that our systems, our technology and our society will continue on in one direction never having a hiccup, a breakdown or worse yet a reversal. There are certainly scenarios I can imagine where many of the primitive skills, which were once common place to all people/society, may become required again. Putting all of your faith in technology might be easy and commonplace, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will always be there for you.

A society that eschews its human relationships and breaks down its sense of community is a fragile one indeed. Our technology is creating an illusion of self-sufficiency that is wrong. Each of us is completely dependent on a myriad of links in the chain that allows our existence to thrive. But like a chain link, it could be rendered useless, if even a single link were to break. And when your chain link breaks, who will be there to help? Not your technology. Will it be your community? Will it be your friends and peers? Will it be your neighbors?

I won’t dwell on the value of human relationships, as other have spent great time and effort documenting this, including a recent article by Brad Stulberg in NY Magazine. I recommend you give it a read.

I simply suggest that cultivating a robust community of human relationships takes considerable effort and it is an investment that will pay dividends in your-well being. Furthermore, it is likely to create a robust cushion for you if we do see disruption in society in its current form.

A subtle undertone, from a corporate perspective, should bias be fixed?

To be clear and fair to Mr. Hamner, I do not believe he was commenting on this idea. But as I began to consider ML bias, I realized that I doubt it is always in a corporate entity’s best interest to remedy bias in their AI. Now, before the pitchforks come out, let me be clear from ForHumanity’s perspective, YES, all bias should be removed. However, corporations may not be fully aligned with the best interest of society on this one. Let me explain.

If bias is removed from a company’s algorithms, the resulting decisions may not provide a product or solution that your customers actually want. Ostensibly, the data that was used in a company’s algos was identified as the right set to solve a problem for your customers. If that data set is altered to remove bias, the result might not be palatable to the customer, especially if they hold that bias. If their bias prevents them from employing the solution or purchasing the product, then the removal of the bias has hurt business. So while it is in society’s best interest to remove bias and to value all members equally, that is not how corporations act. Corporations, at least in the United States, have a responsibility to shareholders, not society. There are many examples in history, where companies have put their bottom-line ahead of the best interest of their community. We’d be foolish to think that will magically change now. Society and Corporations may be misaligned on the value to eliminating bias. So we certainly cannot rely on companies alone, to lead the way on the removal of bias from their AIs. We will have to make them do it.

Bias is wrong. In all its forms, in all its manifestations. Wherever it is found, it should be rooted out and changed. But this is society’s challenge. This is ForHumanity’s challenge. And it applies to our technology as well as it applies to all people. I want to thank Mr. Hamner for an extremely thought provoking tweet, whether he meant it as such or not. I hope that my thoughts are useful to all and that where appropriate, you will join with me to combat bias and to tackle the changes that AI & Automation pose for our humanity.


You can see it everywhere, CNN, Fox News, Facebook, Twitter, on street corners, in cities, in the country, we have become self-obsessed. Our personal view is right, our opinion is the most important thing in the world. We can’t imagine how the world can live without “our reply” or “our hot take” on the latest hot topic. The internet and social media give us the platform to express all of these views, regardless of objective merit. Unfortunately, we often express them without thought. We frequently express them without actually making a point or an argument. Instead they are cheers or they are rants, but they are hardly thoughtful. Take Twitter, the limit on characters actually prevents you from making an argument. 140 characters is simply not enough. And yet, this is our discourse on important topics. It bothers me and so this is my attempt to try to change it. More importantly, the way that we value each other, especially those we disagree with has us on a disastrous path. It is not the policies that are tearing us apart. It is the way we are treating each other. If we continue like this, society will break, of that I am certain. So let’s #changethediscourse.

How can we fix things?

#changethediscourse will be my new response on Facebook and Twitter when anyone uses an unnecessary pejorative in their post. I will write nothing else, I will not address the topic or the issue, until the discourse by the argument maker is changed. It’s the only way to improve things. Pejoratives and inflammatory descriptions are the tools of people who are mad. People filling their posts with these words don’t want to have a discussion or actually try to improve the situation. Pejoratives and inflammatory speech are problems because:


All human beings have value, even the worst people, even people you don’t like, even those you disagree with. All are eligible for forgiveness, all people make mistakes, all people believe the wrong things occasionally . All human beings deserve respect and they deserve dignity. All human beings deserve love. I know we believe this, because I see parents and teachers correct young children, all the time. Yet because we are adults, we believe we can judge people and use far, far worse terminology with this justification? How insecure must we be that to even discuss topics or people we disagree with we bury them beneath an avalanche of pejoratives from the outset. We don’t do this people we know. So, if you’ve done this with regards to someone you don’t know, like a public figure, which we have all done it, then we should be embarrassed.

I encourage all of you to use #changethediscourse and spread it like wildfire until the discourse is changed. Use it against bad media stories that you see. Use it against bad Facebook posts. Use it against bad Twitter threads. Use it until we are having an exchange of dialogue, not a battle of name calling. When we are cooperating, not grandstanding. When we are empathetic and sympathetic to the person we are arguing with. When we listen instead of talk and when we strive for compromise rather than hold out for 100% of our position. When we are suggesting solutions instead of simply venting our frustrations. I am not trying to get rid of conflict. I am not a crackpot Polly-Anna, I make these mistakes too. I fight poorly, I argue poorly, but I want to do better and I need to do better. Look at our political discourse and please, look at yourself because I am talking to you. Everyone comments on every story, because “of course” Facebook gave us a comment line to go above the story we want to share.

Let me challenge you, really challenge you here. When you see something you disagree with, for example, President’s Trump’s latest proposals on immigration. First off, get informed. I saw today that some newspapers are prohibiting comments unless you can prove you understand the story — BRAVO.

Second, use multiple sources, ideally from a liberal side and a conservative side. When I look for news now, I deliberately go to CNN (biased on the liberal side) and Foxnews (biased on the conservative side). I am very comfortable in their bias, which is why I do it. So then, if there is a news item that both are covering, it’s probably real news and worthy of my time. Most times, there is little or no real news and I move on. Finally, after gathering source information from both sides, I beg you to make one positive point, in your head, for the other side of the argument. Here is why this is important. the people on the other side of the argument are not ignorant. They are not dumb. They are not anti-American, They are people and they deserve your respect. If you can see a good reason why someone might hold an opposing view THEN you are prepared to make an argument and either persuade people about your policies or reach a compromise.

Let me help by presenting argument 101

  1. Make a Claim
  2. Provide Evidence

and few suggestions on things to avoid so you don’t get #changethediscourse

  1. Do not berate or label a person
  2. Do not berate an argument
  3. Do not tell people how to think
  4. Avoid inflammatory words (ex President Trump made Immigration proposals, he did not make Xenophobic Immigration proposals)
  5. Let your facts make the argument

There is no room in there for name calling. An example, if I may:

“This war is going to tear our country apart. That ugly, awkward, lanky, country-bumpkin, wearing that atrocious stove-pipe doesn’t have the first clue how to run this country.”

No arguments made. A whole mess of pejoratives designed to win your favor, Since they are all negative, if the listener finds them fitting, then (s)he MUST support the arguers argument or lack there of, at least that’s the rationale for using pejoratives. Not once did the arguer provide evidence on how the war would tear the country apart. Nor did (s)he once try to prove that President Lincoln didn’t know what he was doing. Sound familiar?

Use #changethediscourse to remind people to provide evidence, make an argument, suggest solutions. Stop name calling, stop demeaning, stop driving us apart and behaving as if you are somehow superior. You are not superior. Starting with President Trump. Notice the title, President Trump, the office deserves respect. He is not “Trump”, just as President Obama, was not “Obama”.

A new Quinnipiac University survey of 1,078 voters across the nation has found that words like incompetent; liar; leader; unqualified; president; strong; businessman; ignorant; egotistical; and asshole are some of those most commonly associated with the president. The top three words (idiotincompetent, and liar) were given as response 39, 31, and 30 times, respectively. Mostly bad, derogatory, pejorative, demeaning and distasteful names. I am ashamed and I blame the technology we hide behind and the cult of “self” that we have created. If we don’t fix it, it will tear the country apart but not in the way that you might imagine but more on that in a moment. Before I explain the risk, lest you think this is a Conservative rant, let’s look at a Liberal example.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a former candidate for President and a human, is called all forms of abusive names simply because people don’t like her and don’t agree with her politics. This is one paragraph from an article that I won’t cite because I don’t want to draw your attention to it:

And for all that time, there has been a deafening chorus of critics telling me that she’s just the most wicked, evil, Machiavellian, nefarious individual in American history. She has “the soul of an East German border guard,” in the words of that nice Grover Norquist. She’s a “bitch,” in the words of that nice Newt Gingrich. She’s a “dragon lady.” She’s “Elena Ceaușescu.” She’s “the Lady Macbeth of Little Rock.”

Pejorative after pejorative. Derogatory, demeaning and distasteful. Sadly, we buy into this charade and this farce. You might think the author is making an argument, or *gasp* even suggesting a policy alternative, but why should he, most of the readers have already bought into what the author is trying to achieve which is to discredit Hillary Clinton.

So why am I going to all of this trouble. It is far more likely that #changethediscourse will NOT go viral and will NOT change anyone’s behavior, but it won’t keep me from trying. I need #changethediscourse because I need a polite and courteous way to reply to posts occasionally. Most times I ignore these posts, but I hate being so passive. I hate not trying to fix things. So this is one attempt. Maybe some of you will join me. I hope you will.

I am also doing this because of my work at ForHumanity. The challenges we have ahead from the advancement of Artificial Intelligence & Automation are enormous. I also believe that there is a coming divide among people. Not the one you might expect from my examples above. A larger and more meaningful one. One that is not here today, but given the history of our use of technology, it will come to pass. On our present course, technology will physically divide us. I wrote a previous post which explains that the introduction of technology into our bodies will create two classes of humans, augmented and natural.

Humans that augment their bodies with technology will be superior, that is the point of the technology. It will give you super-human skills. As an example the “Gateway Drug” of implanted technology, the RFID chip. Those that implant the chip will have the super-human ability to NEVER misplace their keys. They will also likely be able to pay for things faster and without the strain of pulling out their wallet. Hardly Superman stuff, but they are super human, in the true meaning of the term, which is “better than or above” human, even if it is in a small way. The people who get it done will rave and tell you all about. The Swedish company that asked their employees to get one held parties each time someone got chipped.

A Swedish start-up has started implanting microchips into its employees
And as with most new technologies, it raises security and privacy issues. While biologically safe, the data generated…

That’s the point of a gateway drug, its simple, its cheap and its easy. Soon people will have super human hearing, eye sight, strength and speed from technology. There will be super humans using technology and there will be those who think that augmentation with technology is a sacrifice to their very humanity. Two classes, with one superior in many skills, quite possibly even intelligence. If the two classes cannot value the people as equals, despite their differences in skills (intelligence), then we will have serious, serious problems. As discussed at length above, I am already concerned about the way we devalue people who disagree with us. Devaluing humans is a dangerous precedent, one we are practicing to perfection today and it starts with how we argue. This is a problem that ForHumanity will work hard to avoid and it starts by #changethediscourse. All people are valuable for who they are. Treat them accordingly please.

Technology + The Human Body = Insurmountable Societal Challenge?

Picture this world for a moment. You are out of work. Technology is moving so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. In fact, at your last job, you almost felt like you couldn’t process information as quickly as the younger employees on your team. They seemed to be up-to-speed on the latest software almost overnight. So when the company had a couple of difficult quarters and your boss scheduled that one-on-one meeting, you knew what was coming. Probably something many can relate to, if not actually experienced.

A few months later, it has been difficult to get a job. So you are networking everywhere you can, including with old colleagues. You decide to get drinks after work. A couple of beers later, the conversation is flowing, you’re chatting away almost forgetting that this was meant to be networking. You mention how frustrating technological advancement has been and that you found it difficult to keep up. Your colleague gives you a wry smile, leans back and says, “yep, you are so right, I’d be lost without my NeuraMesh”.

“NeuraMesh, what’s a NeuraMesh?” you ask.

He points to his head and says that he has an implant that increases his hearing, records all his sights and sounds, increases brain function by 2x and automatically downloads new software. Augmented and virtual reality tutorials operate overnight while he sleeps so that he can learn new technology immediately. “You should get one,” he says. “Only cost me $20,000. My parents bought it for me before college. They wanted to make sure they got the most out of their college investment,” he laughs.

You’re floored. You were competing for your job with a machine. Or at least, a cyborg (part man, part machine). How could you possibly measure up? How could you possibly learn new software while you slept? How could you compete with someone who has 2x brain function?

This may seem like science fiction, but it is nearing science fact. Not necessarily in the brain function department, although there are plenty of people working on it including Elon Musk and his $1 billion commitment to fund a “NeuraMesh” type interface for the brain.

Elon Musk launches Neuralink, a venture to merge the human brain with AI
SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is backing a brain-computer interface venture called Neuralink, according to The Wall…

But you don’t have to wait for those breakthroughs. Today, the government and independent scientists are developing prosthetics for every part of the body. Each one of these is developed with a patient in mind, someone who is disabled, lost a limb, lost an eye, spinal injury etc. This endeavors are generally altruistic and even beautiful advancements. Seeing video of a soldier who lost his arm, wiggle his fingers, by thinking about it is heart-warming. From that perspective, transhumanism is beautiful.

The military just built the most advanced prosthetic arm we've ever seen
During a recent event held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Tech Insider had a chance to check…

THE 'EYEBORG': This filmmaker lost an eye - and replaced it with a tiny camera
Filmmaker Rob Spence lost his right eye in a childhood accident. Recently, he decided to take advantage of his…


But there are two parts to that word, trans (across, beyond, through, changing) and human. Because the human is involved, it begins to become problematic.

Humans are competitive. Humans want to win. Humans want to achieve things that have never been done before. Humans like attention and accolades. What steps won’t people take to succeed. Just look at steroid use in sports. Athletes found a way to surpass their previous abilities and it was exploited rampantly. It also changed the game of baseball forever…

Humans will take Artificial Intelligence and Automation, in the form of cybernetics and they will make themselves superhuman cyborgs. But it doesn’t even have to be intentional at first. Take Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius. He lost both of his lower legs. Used prosthetic blades as replacements and competed at the highest levels in sprint racing, a glorious triumph of the human spirit. But it begged the question, do his prostheses enhances his ability to compete. The short answer is yes, there are advantages, but researchers aren’t sure if they are meaningful contributors above human-level performance. However, no one would disagree, that they could be made to be meaningfully better.

Blade Runners: Do High-Tech Prostheses Give Runners an Unfair Advantage?
Paralympic long jump champ Markus Rehm's bid to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics fell short in July when he…

So just like steroids in baseball or blood-doping in cycling. Athletes looking for an edge are incentivized to push the boundaries. Pushing boundaries, as it happens, is the express desire of many scientists in the field. The Department of Defense in the US is already experimenting with exoskeletons that are stronger, faster, bullet-proof and armed. Some prostheses, like mechanical eyes, already have the advantage of recording, rather than relying upon memory. Cochlear implants can record everything audible. These are steps which have already allowed the disabled who have implanted them to achieve super-human status with that sense. These developments will continue.

Here’s the point. ForHumanity has no intention, today, to prevent the use or development of transhuman technologies. Honestly, I don’t think they could be stopped and in many case don’t need to be stopped. However, it creates a problem for humanityIt creates unfair competition and it disadvantages those who do not have super-human cybernetics.

I am afraid, however, that transhumanism may become the steroids of the late 90’s Major League Baseball, but with FAR greater consequences. The peer pressure among baseball players was tremendous. Jobs were being lost, millions of dollars being lost by players who did not use steroids. This article from 1999 in USA Today highlights the pressure that even high school athletes were feeling to use steroids to compete and in some cases to even survive:

When you can no longer find work because you can’t compete, you will invest in the cybernetics. When you are no longer strong enough to do your manual-labor job, you will invest in cybernetics. When your friends tell you how convenient their implanted technology is, you will invest in cybernetics. Eventually, societal expectation will be for all to accept certain technologies. When they are proven safe through usage, proponents will argue that there is no excuse for implantation. The argument will be simple, “why rely on that feeble brain when you can have a better brain?. We got rid of horses for automobiles didn’t we? No more abacus, use this calculator. No more calculator, use this computer”. Technology and the assistance it gives us is nice, convenient and makes life easier for us, right? Well, technology is a little bit like a drug. Makes us happier, makes life easier when we use it. But does it have side effects or lead to addiction. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us have some sort of technology addiction. That concern leads me to the gateway “drug” of cybernetics.

The implanted RFID chip. Harmless right? Implanted in my hand in the blink of an eye. Gets rid of those car keys I always lose. Wallets? who needs those, people can steal them or I can lose it? Why not put everything on a chip and embedded it into my hand. Simple, cheap and easy. Well, that is what a gateway drug is… simple, cheap and easy. When will you stop adding tech to your body? Bluetooth ears? Health monitors that make sure you are in tip-top physical shape. Eye implants that record everything you see. Lightweight exoskeletons that triple your strength and speed? Brain interfaces that let you learn faster, record more data and operate your gadgets with a thought. Why would you stop? We don’t stop advancing our external technology? If things are proven to be safe, physically, why not continue to upgrade your internal technology. Each step forward however, you are less human. Partly because you are also superior, to many of those around you. I ask you, is it fair for a natural human to have to compete with you for your job, if you have advanced brain function? or if you are stronger? ForHumanity believes that is not fair.

Where does that leave us? Well, in a conundrum quite frankly. Today, technology can be restorative and beautiful. Tomorrow we will have humans with super human “powers or skills”. In the beginning, we will see these cybernetics hacked and exploited. There will be debates on the pros and cons, but eventually they will become quite robust, all technology does. When there are problems with tech, innovation takes over and gets them fixed eventually. On the other side of the coin, we have natural humans, who choose not to engage these technologies and they will experience heavy peer pressure to join or will become a disadvantaged minority, the likes of which our species has never seen. How will we respond when being/remaining a natural born human is a weakness? Will society protect the weak? Will our leaders and electorates create legislation to protect or even level the playing field? Will those who are natural even feel like a part of the same species? How will we even know who is cybernetic and how much tech they have? These are massive challenges for humanity. I fear it will lead to a genuine break in society and that is why I am raising the issue. We should be preparing to consider these issues right now, at the beginning, while these technologies are being developed. ForHumanity wants your views on this topic, please think deeply and share them with us., or comment here.