Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University: “Why Computer Scientists Need Philosophers, According to a Mathematician – “Lily Hu is a 3rd year PhD candidate in Applied Mathematics at Harvard University, where she studies algorithmic fairness with special interest in its interaction with various philosophical notions of justice. Currently, she is an intern at Microsoft Research New York City and a member of the Mechanism Design for Social Good research group (co-founded by Berkman affiliate Rediet Abebe). She is also passionate about education equity; she has taught subjects such as physics, biology, chemistry, English, and Spanish History/Geography in San Francisco, Cambridge, and Madrid. Note: Lily Hu was Julia’s high school calculus tutor. At that time, neither of them knew they were interested in machine learning ethics. The Berkman Klein Center has unwittingly brought them together again, where Julia and Nikhil were assigned to interview Lily, three years later.
How are algorithms distributing power between people? What kind of questions are they enabling us to ask, what kind of questions are they enabling us to solve, and not only that, but what kind of questions are they preventing us from answering? JULIA: Can you elaborate on the work you’re doing at the Berkman Klein Center — an overview of the project, where you’re at right now, and where you hope to be at the end of the 1-year fellowship?
I work in algorithmic fairness; in particular, I’m interested in thinking about algorithmic systems as explicitly resource distribution mechanisms. I’m not interested in necessarily how the particulars of the sorting happens; I’m interested in the final outcomes that are issued, and I am interested in the distributional outcomes that are deemed to be appropriate or inappropriate under our various fairness notions. How are algorithms distributing power between people? What kind of questions are they enabling us to ask, what kind of questions are they enabling us to solve, and not only that, but what kind of questions are they preventing us from answering? That’s kind of my big research agenda…”