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DSI executive director David Uminsky speaks at the opening of the Data, Artificial Intelligence and the Ethical Imperative.
DSI executive director David Uminsky speaks at the opening of the Data, Artificial Intelligence and the Ethical Imperative conference.

By Trinity Jackson

In Chicago neighborhoods such as Parkway Gardens, Barbra Jean Wrights Ct., and Cabrini Green, communities of color are monitored closely by law enforcement using devices such as ShotSpotter. The City of Chicago describes ShotSpotter as a “gunshot detection system designed to automatically determine the location of potential outdoor gunfire.” But as Black and Brown Americans continue to experience the most violent interactions with police authority, it opens a conversation about how this technology and the data it produces can escalate to traffic stops and the use of force.

On October 7-8, 2022, the Data, Artificial Intelligence, and the Ethical Imperative conference tackled the Shotspotter case and other examples where emerging technologies raise important questions around human impact. Organized by students from the Master of Science in Computational Analytics and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program at The University of Chicago, the event gathered experts from data science, law, policy, and other fields to discuss topics such as Privacy & Ownership, Bias & Fairness, Transparency & Explainability, The Role of Data in Society, and The Future of Data.

The Data Science Institute had the pleasure of supporting the conference and provided speakers including executive director David Uminsky and preceptor Amanda Kube. After the event, the DSI sat down with the MSCAPP student organizers – Núria Adell Raventós, Drew Keller, Cole Von Glahn, Olivia Pinney, Sergio Olalla, and Ellie Jackson – to discuss their motivation for hosting the conference and more learning opportunities for the future.

From left to right: Núria Adell Raventós, Drew Keller, Cole Von Glahn, Olivia Pinney, Sergio Olalla, and Ellie Jackson
From left to right: Núria Adell Raventós, Drew Keller, Cole Von Glahn, Olivia Pinney, Sergio Olalla, and Ellie Jackson

All agreed that their main connection to organizing the conference was through their personal research; and even joked that they’d become “selfish,” or eager to answer their personal questions outside of their main curriculum. The six MSCAPP students wanted to relate the research presented in the conference and their studies; supporting their interest in “AI technologies, and the idea that they could be used for positive purposes;” said Keller.

Deciding on who would be presenting at the conference was a difficult task for the MSCAPP students as they had so many people in mind to invite; confirmation that Chicago is a city full of well-educated legal and data science professionals. Though the decision was a “long process,” said Von Glahn, the group agreed it was important to have a representative of every topic in order to complete their panel sessions. Pinney shared that the team split into groups that targeted specific areas of research, then contacted speakers they believed “would have answers to dealing with ethical dilemmas,” and those “who may not have those answers, but will ask the right questions.”

The ShotSpotter discussion exemplified this approach, probing how a seemingly impartial technology potentially supports racist narratives in targeted communities. Chief Data & Technology Officer at Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Matthew Saniie, illustrated the harm that ShotSpotter causes as it’s used or placed in specific communities of color. This prompted questions around how data and AI can change or remove narrative or bias amongst Black and Brown communities.

Pinney said she appreciated that each speaker was able to effectively approach this “notion of bias” and “conversation about data, and systematic racism.” She noted that specific languages can be used generally and that there is a need to address the specifics. “If we just speak in platitudes, we’re glossing over a lot of the hard work that needs to be done,” she said. “The first step is gathering this kind of community awareness and language that is more specific.”

Von Glahn noted that data and AI can play a role in historical bias, and encouraged the audience to recognize racism as a “systems problem, not an individual problem.” The group encouraged those interested to ask how results are found, and to ask “where did this come from?”

Sergio Olalla shares ways that their audience can do further research on these ethical dilemmas. “It’s similar to a compilation of article books and peer reviewed papers. I think it might be sometimes hard to find out everything by yourself.”

The organizers said that they enjoyed the engagement that each presenter and panelist had with their audience, as well as witnessing conversations “between people from different profiles; professor of law, or in other academic fields,” said Olalla.

Pictured: Núria Adell Raventós
Pictured: Núria Adell Raventós

Raventós mentioned the excitement in listening to other panels outside of her group, as it motivated her to learn about other topics outside of her research. “It started as a selfish interest – I want to learn more about this,” she said. “I want to hear about all these people…”

“From an Organizing perspective, it was just really interesting to see what each pair [during the research process] had compiled and put together,” Jackson said “I really enjoyed seeing everybody moderate, and all the work that went into it.”

Pictured: Ellie Jackson
Pictured: Ellie Jackson

While this year’s organizers will graduate next summer, they’re already planning to recruit first-year students to host another conference around AI, Data, and Ethics next year. With a sold-out conference and many more people on the waiting list, the demand for these conversations was clear.

“I think one of the takeaways was that there’s a huge amount of interest over this topic.” said Keller “one of the challenging parts was timing; we had to cut time as conversations grew longer.”

The organizers welcome those with interests in data, AI, and ethical dilemmas to assist them in planning or presenting at their next conference.

If interested, contact:

Special thanks to these dedicated and talented MSCAPP students for sharing this experience with the DSI!