New group to study AI’s impact on decision-making

Artificial intelligence is guiding a growing number of decisions in criminal justice, education, health care and other areas, with the potential to significantly alter people’s lives.

To examine the real-world consequences of this trend, a group of researchers at Cornell’s Ithaca and New York City campuses have formed the Artificial Intelligence, Policy, and Practice initiative. Over the next three years, members hope to bring together a community of scholars with expertise in computing, the law, social science, communications and philosophy to create opportunities to collaborate on related research.

“AI is being used for particularly high-stakes decisions that affect people’s opportunities to succeed in life, and often has disproportionate impact on people from marginalized communities,” said Karen Levy, assistant professor of information science, one of the four researchers who formed the group. The others are Solon Barocas, assistant professor of information science; Jon Kleinberg, the Tisch University Professor of Computer Science; and Helen Nissenbaum, professor of information science at Cornell Tech.

The initiative is also hosting David Robinson, co-founder of Upturn, a nonprofit focused on equity in digital technology, as a visiting scientist this year.

“There hasn’t been much opportunity to bring together different disciplinary perspectives in this way,” Levy said. “The idea is to see if there’s something to be gained from thinking collaboratively about how artificial intelligence is used in the real world.”

The initiative is funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation. This fall, it is cosponsoring the Tech/Law Colloquium, and its members plan to introduce more programming in the months ahead.

The researchers hope that through a multidisciplinary approach they can arrive at a more practical understanding of AI decision-making and better support future research.

“We want to study how this works in applied settings, not just theoretically,” Barocas said. “Long term, our goal is to do research that has practical impact. Not only research that scholars would find useful, but research that can translate into a rigorous foundation for policy.”

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