Can the "Lesbian Rule" Fight Weaponized Math?
Reviving the “Lesbian Rule” (which Aristotle wrote about, and was proverbial in Shakespeare's day) can help us handle a new kind of weaponized-math threat (that Cathy O’Neil calls “Weapons of Math Destruction”).
2. O’Neil exposes software models as digital deciders that can be “opaque… and uncontestable (sic), even when they’re wrong” (a new kind of kinetic logic threat).
3. Aristotle believed laws can be “defective because of... generality.” So equity can “only be measured… like the leaden rule used by Lesbian builders… that rule is not rigid but can bend to the shape of the stone.” (Until ~1870 Lesbian didn’t mean female homosexual.)
5. Shakespeare pondered distinctions between justice, equity, and equality. See “The Lesbian Rule of Measure for Measure’s” inflexible rules, King Lear’s “social arithmetics,” or “false equality” and erring quantitative equations in The Tempest.
6. In our math-intoxicated times we’re often at the mercy of the rigid-ruled robo-judgments of algorithms. O’Neil details their math-driven harms across fields like finance, education, justice, and democracy.
7. Models and metrics seemingly offer objective and fair judgements, but they often encode “prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias.” And predictive models can perpetuate injustice (e.g., algorithmic discrimination in sentencing and recidivism models).
8. And metrics can distort—>what gets measured often gets gamed. For instance, one university instantly improved its research rating by paying adjuncts $72,000 for 3 weeks of teaching if they reassigned old research to their new university.
9. Plus, much resists quantification. For instance, hammering all the complexity of good teaching into one number risks being “a statistical farce” (e.g. this New York Public School teacher rating seesawed wildly).
11. Sometimes the smart-seeming move of focussing on the metrics and the math, misleads. What math-mesmerized experts forget is that not all logic works like math (here’s an example of locally valid steps not logically accumulating like math overall).
13. Lesbian Rule thinking now means asking: Is all the needed truth in the data? Are the relevant realities squeezed into the model’s rules? Biases countered? Exceptions handled? Redress enabled?
14. Per Aristotle, legal codes have long encoded the need for judges to tailor justice (situationally, equitably). Legal norms (mitigation, recourse, conflict-of-interest avoidance) provide good models for algo-ethics (aside: lawyers are among the few still trained in non-numeric logic).
16. O’Neil says putting “fairness ahead of profit” means explicitly embedding “better values into our algorithms" (+using audits, transparency, hippocratic oaths).
17. Algorithms offer great gains and efficiencies, but these rigid-ruled robo-judges are also clear and present dangers. We court disaster if justice remains blind to their systemic risks.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Torn between absolutism on the left and the right, classical liberalism—with its core values of compassion and incremental progress whereby the once-radical becomes the mainstream—is in need of a good defense. And Adam Gopnik is its lawyer.
- Liberalism as "radical pragmatism"
- Intersectionality and civic discourse
- How "a thousand small sanities" tackled drunk driving, normalized gay marriage, and could control gun violence
As Game of Thrones ends, a revealing resolution to its perplexing geography.
- The fantasy world of Game of Thrones was inspired by real places and events.
- But the map of Westeros is a good example of the perplexing relation between fantasy and reality.
- Like Britain, it has a Wall in the North, but the map only really clicks into place if you add Ireland.
The lost practice of face-to-face communication has made the world a more extreme place.
- The world was saner when we spoke face-to-face, argues John Cameron Mitchell. Not looking someone in the eye when you talk to them raises the potential for miscommunication and conflict.
- Social media has been an incredible force for activism and human rights, but it's also negatively affected our relationship with the media. We are now bombarded 24/7 with news that either drives us to anger or apathy.
- Sitting behind a screen makes polarization worse, and polarization is fertile ground for conspiracy theories and fascism, which Cameron describes as irrationally blaming someone else for your problems.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.