31 januari, 2017
Is it guns that kill people? Or is it people who kill people? This was one of the philosophical dilemmas posed by Frank Buytendijk, guest speaker at the first JADS seminar. Frank is a fellow at Gartner, the world's leading IT research and advisory company, and he was there to prompt discussion and help shape opinions on the subject of digital ethics.
The gun dilemma – like many of the points made – caused division in the participating audience, at first. But most agreed that the designer of a gun that kills people must take some responsibility for the killing. And this acknowledgement paved the way to the discussion on how and why data scientists should take responsibility for the algorithms they design, and the consequences those algorithms have on people and society.
Digital ethics top priority in data science
This was the first of many weekly one-hour sessions, which are purposely held in the JADS lunchroom to create an informal and interactive setting. Frank set the scene and explained why today’s data scientists are increasingly required to act on their ethical responsibilities in the digital domain. “A few years ago,” he explained, “the term ‘digital ethics’ didn’t even exist. But with increasing compliance and privacy legislation, digital ethics is now a top priority for most digitally-mature organisations. And it is going to play an increasingly important role in data science.”
Artificial intelligence or artificial stupidity?
Although Frank led the discussion with a prepared agenda, interaction, questions and observations by the audience participators was energetically encouraged, and a lively debate was enjoyed by all. Some of the conclusions were quite controversial, for example, Frank gave real-life examples of artificial intelligence and learning programs going wrong, leading one participant to ask whether we should rename A.I. as Artificial Stupidity.
“Perhaps the most surprising revelation for me,” said one of the participants after the seminar, “was the unanimous agreement that we have all given up our data privacy to companies and the governments without any discussion whatsoever. I think one of the biggest roles that we, as data scientists, now have is that of educationalists. We must make the public more data literate.”
Another participant commented, “This session was a real eye-opener. I still can’t quite accept that all data has some subjective component. I know already, that this notion is going to roll around in my head for quite some time.”
Real-world data science issues
The JADS seminars are aimed at creating awareness of real-world data science issues. And importantly, each week the guest speakers alternate between external data science professionals and internal JADS faculty members. By mixing internal knowledge with external expertise, the organisers aim to constantly feed new ideas, theories and opinions into the JADS seminar community.
“I was particularly impressed with the real-world example that the speaker gave from legal cases involving Google and Volkswagen,” said one of the participants. ”After discussing the notion of digital ethics it seems preposterous that both companies denied responsibility for the misuse of customer data – even though the misuse was unintentional, the relevant data scientists are still responsible in some way. I now see why the title of the seminar was ‘Digital Ethics – Why Saying Sorry Is Not Enough.’”
More JADS seminars every Tuesday
The JADS seminars are designed to build knowledge but also community: they are a chance for JADS students and lecturers to debate with professional speakers and other faculty members about what data science can achieve, how we should manage its social and environmental impacts. And most importantly, how to promote ‘green’ data science that is beneficial not only commercially but is also based on principles of sustainability, and benefit to society.
Everyone is welcome to these Tuesday seminars, which start at 12.30. Bring your lunch, and some friends. Contribute and provoke. Upcoming JADS seminar topics include “Speed data-ing the computer: exploring alternative preference elicitation methods for recommender systems” and “Big Data and security: the case for regulating analytics and use.”
Next to these free open seminars, JADS is offering executive education. Check out for more information about our monthly masterclasses and company-specific programs. Register here for the first upcoming masterclass at February 7th.
Every Tuesday afternoon, JADS Room
The JADS seminar series is a weekly presentation and discussion session open to the whole JADS community.
The sessions will alternate between presentations by JADS faculty and invited speakers who will discuss real-world data science issues.