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Grad student leads group on algorithms and AI for social good

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Lindsey Hadlock

Members of the Mechanism Design for Social Good group, from left: Manish Raghavan, co-founder Rediet Abebe and Jon Kleinberg.

While advances in algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) have transformed many aspects of our lives, opportunities for further exploration remain. One of these is the application of algorithms and AI to improving societal welfare, in particular by increasing access to opportunities for groups of people for whom opportunities have historically been limited.

Inspired by this mission, Rediet Abebe, a doctoral candidate in computer science and an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Inequality, co-founded the Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) group in 2016.

MD4SG is an interdisciplinary, multi-institution research group that identifies research topics for which algorithmic, mechanism design and AI techniques have the potential to improve access to opportunity. The group was co-founded and is co-organized by Abebe and Kira Goldner, a graduate student at the University of Washington.

There have been several examples of contributions from algorithms and AI transforming real-world situations, such as assignment processes related to kidney donations and school choice. But there remain many more areas – such as allocating low-income housing resources, improving access to healthcare and health information, and issues concerning the developing world – in which computational insights could deepen understandings of socioeconomic inequality and inform interventions for mitigating it.

MD4SG has hosted talks by researchers in computer science, economics, global health, public policy, sociology and other related fields. Members are graduate students and faculty at institutions including Harvard University, Tel Aviv University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the group has built a network of nearly 100 researchers involved with the initiative. In addition to Abebe, long-term members from Cornell include Jon Kleinberg, professor of computer science and information science, and Manish Raghavan, a doctoral student in computer science.

A Workshop on Mechanism Design for Social Good will be held as part of EC ’18, the ACM Conference on Economics and Computation to be held at Cornell June 18-22.

MD4SG aims to foster collaborations among researchers with diverse areas of expertise and also among researchers and policymakers, nongovernment organizations, companies and other entities who share the mission of improving access to opportunity. MD4SG has received support and guidance from Tom Kalil, former deputy director for policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration and philanthropic advisor of the Schmidt Family Foundation, to help ensure that their research has impact in academia and beyond.

Abebe’s research focuses on using algorithms and AI to shed light on underexplored dimensions of socioeconomic inequality and improving resource allocations, targeting education and designing systems to mitigate it. She is a member of the Social Dynamics Lab in the Department of Sociology.

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