How Microsoft is opening AI’s algorithmic ‘black box’ for greater transparency

How Microsoft is opening AI’s algorithmic ‘black box’ for greater transparency

8:57pm, 23rd April, 2019
Erez Barak, senior director of product for Microsoft’s AI Division, speaks at the Global Artificial Intelligence Conference in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Artificial intelligence can work wonders, but often it works in mysterious ways. Machine learning is based on the principle that a software program can analyze a huge set of data and fine-tune its algorithms to detect patterns and come up with solutions that humans may miss. That’s how Google DeepMind’s Alpha Go AI agent (and other games) well enough to beat expert players. But if programmers and users can’t figure out how AI algorithms came up with their results, that black-box behavior can be a cause for concern. It may become impossible to judge whether AI agents have picked up . That’s why terms such as transparency, explainability and interpretability are playing an increasing role in the AI ethics debate. The European Commission includes transparency and traceability among its , in line with the laid out in data-protection laws. The French government that powers the algorithms it uses. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission’s has been charged with providing guidance on algorithmic transparency. Transparency figures in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s as well — and , senior director of product for Microsoft’s AI Division, addressed the issue head-on today at the Global Artificial Intelligence Conference in Seattle. “We believe that transparency is a key,” he said. “How many features did we consider? Did we consider just these five? Or did we consider 5,000 and choose these five?” Barak noted that a is built right into Microsoft’s Azure Machine Learning service. “What it does is that it takes the model as an input and starts breaking it down,” he said. The model explanation can show which factors went into the computer model, and how they were weighted by the AI system’s algorithms. As a result, customers can better understand why, for instance, they were turned down for a mortgage, passed over for a job opening, or denied parole. AI developers can also use the model explanations to make their algorithms more “human.” For instance, it may be preferable to go with an algorithm that doesn’t fit a training set of data quite as well, but is more likely to promote fairness and avoid gender or racial bias. As AI applications become more pervasive, calls for transparency — perhaps enforced through government regulation — could well become stronger. And that runs the risk of exposing trade secrets hidden within a company’s intricately formulated algorithms, said , a partner at Seattle’s Perkins Coie law firm who specializes in trade regulations. “Algorithms tend to be things that are closely guarded. … That’s not something that you necessarily want to be transparent with the public or with your competitors about, so there is that fundamental tension,” Castillo said. “That’s more at issue in Europe than in the U.S., which has much, much, much stronger and aggressive enforcement.” Microsoft has already taken a strong stance on responsible AI — to the point that the company . After his talk, Barak told GeekWire that Azure Machine Learning’s explainability feature could be used as an open-source tool to look inside the black box and verify that an AI algorithm doesn’t perpetuate all-too-human injustices. Over time, will the software industry or other stakeholders develop a set of standards or a “seal of approval” for AI algorithms? “We’ve seen that in things like security. Those are the kinds of thresholds that have been set. I’m pretty sure we’re heading in that direction as well,” Barak said. “The idea is to give everyone the visibility and capability to do that, and those standards will develop, absolutely.”
GeekWire Calendar Picks: Black Girls Code workshops, Pluto’s planetary debate, FFA’s Champion Awards, and more

GeekWire Calendar Picks: Black Girls Code workshops, Pluto’s planetary debate, FFA’s Champion Awards, and more

5:32pm, 29th March, 2019
(Photo via Black Girls CODE) — , a nonprofit dedicated to teaching girls of color ages 7-17 about computer programming and technology, is holding on Saturday, March 30 in advance of the opening of a Seattle chapter in April. The workshops, scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon, will be held at the following locations: Sammamish High School, 100 140th Ave. SE, Bellevue, Wash.; Seattle Central College, 1701 Broadway, Seattle; South Shore Pre K-8, 4800 South Henderson, Seattle. The events are free but require advance registration (via the Black Girls CODE homepage). The Seattle chapter, the organization’s 15th, was made possible . — When most of us were in school, we were probably told that nine planets existed in the solar system. Now there are eight. Poor Pluto lost its planetary designation in 2006 when astronomers decided it didn’t fit the criteria as the other eight “true” planets. But the debate has started again. You can get the full scoop on Pluto at the Evergrey’s presentation at the Pacific Science Center on April 11. — Women’s History Month may be drawing to a close, but the Female Founders Alliance is continuing the celebration with their annual on April 4. The Champion Awards were created to honor individuals and companies in the Pacific Northwest that are making a notable difference in helping women succeed in the workplace, regardless of their field or industry. The Champion Awards pick winners in five different categories, including advocates, investors and role models. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : An event honoring people and companies who are impacting change in the city, hosted by The Evergrey in Seattle; 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4. : An event featuring panels and guest speakers about the art of networking at The Columbia Tower Club in Seattle; 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 4. : A talk about how startups can effectively use social media to reach their goals at CoMotion Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 5. : A talk about the opportunities and how to get started in the public sector at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 5. : An event featuring panels and discussions with the goal of linking founders with other founders and investors at WeWork Labs in Portland; 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9. : An event focusing on the basics of blockchain at the Flatiron School in Seattle; 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 9. : A job fair specifically for startups to meet some of the students who might make for good additions to teams, at the University of Washington Intellectual House in Seattle; 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 10. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .