Smart Software, Dumb Biases

April 17, 2017

Math is objective, right? Not really. Developers of artificial intelligence systems, what I call smart software, rely on what they learned in math school. If you have flipped through math books ranging from the Googler’s tome on artificial intelligence Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach to the musings of the ACM’s journals, you see the same methods recycled. Sure, the algorithms are given a bath and their whiskers are cropped. But underneath that show dog’s sleek appearance, is a familiar pooch. K-means. We have k-means. Decision trees? Yep, decision trees.

What happens when developers feed content into Rube Goldberg machines constructed of mathematical procedures known and loved by math wonks the world over?

The answer appears in “Semantics Derived Automatically from Language Corpora Contain Human Like Biases.” The headline says it clearly, “Smart software becomes as wild and crazy as a group of Kentucky politicos arguing in a bar on Friday night at 2:15 am.”

Biases are expressed and made manifest.

The article in Science reports with considerable surprise it seems to me:

word embeddings encode not only stereotyped biases but also other knowledge, such as the visceral pleasantness of flowers or the gender distribution of occupations.

Ah, ha. Smart software learns biases. Perhaps “smart” correlates with bias?

The canny whiz kids who did the research crawfish a bit:

We stress that we replicated every association documented via the IAT that we tested. The number, variety, and substantive importance of our results raise the possibility that all implicit human biases are reflected in the statistical properties of language. Further research is needed to test this hypothesis and to compare language with other modalities, especially the visual, to see if they have similarly strong explanatory power.

Yep, nothing like further research to prove that when humans build smart software, “magic” happens. The algorithms manifest biases.

What the write up did not address is a method for developing less biases smart software. Is such a method beyond the ken of computer scientists?

To get more information about this question, I asked on the world leader in the field of computational linguistics, Dr. Antonio Valderrabanos, the founder and chief executive officer at Bitext. Dr. Valderrabanos told me:

We use syntactic relations among words instead of using n-grams and similar statistical artifacts, which don’t understand word relations. Bitext’s Deep Linguistics Analysis platform can provide phrases or meaningful relationships to uncover more textured relationships. Our analysis will provide better content to artificial intelligence systems using corpuses of text to learn.

Bitext’s approach is explained in the exclusive interview which appeared in Search Wizards Speak on April 11, 2017. You can read the full text of the interview at this link and review the public information about the breakthrough DLA platform at

It seems to me that Bitext has made linguistics the operating system for artificial intelligence.

Stephen E Arnold, April 17, 2017


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