Seven months since the last update. Much better than the gap of three years between the previous two. These past months I feel like I have begun to reap the rewards of the grunt work of the last couple of years. Two papers finally saw the light of day, as well as a course syllabus. Read on for some more details.
Things that happened:
First, a pair of talks. In February I presented on “Contestable AI & Civic Co-Design” as part of a panel chaired by Roy Bendor at Reinventing the City. A PDF of my slides is available on the contestable.ai website, here. In March, I presented at the AiTech Agora. The title of the talk is “Meaningful Human Control Through Contestability by Design” and the slides are available here.
In February a short interview was published by Bold Cities, a smart city research center I am loosely affiliated with.
Then, in March, came a big moment for me, with the publication of my first journal article in AI & Society. Here’s the abstract, and reference. It’s available open access.
The increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) by public actors has led to a push for more transparency. Previous research has conceptualized AI transparency as knowledge that empowers citizens and experts to make informed choices about the use and governance of AI. Conversely, in this paper, we critically examine if transparency-as-knowledge is an appropriate concept for a public realm where private interests intersect with democratic concerns. We conduct a practice-based design research study in which we prototype and evaluate a transparent smart electric vehicle charge point, and investigate experts’ and citizens’ understanding of AI transparency. We find that citizens experience transparency as burdensome; experts hope transparency ensures acceptance, while citizens are mostly indifferent to AI; and with absent means of control, citizens question transparency’s relevance. The tensions we identify suggest transparency cannot be reduced to a product feature, but should be seen as a mediator of debate between experts and citizens.Alfrink, Kars, Ianus Keller, Neelke Doorn, and Gerd Kortuem. “Tensions in Transparent Urban AI: Designing a Smart Electric Vehicle Charge Point.” AI & SOCIETY, March 31, 2022. https://doi.org/10/gpszwh.
In April, the Responsible Sensing Lab published a report on “Responsible Drones”, to which I contributed a little as participant on workshops that lead up to it.
A second big milestone for me was making public the syllabus for industrial design engineering master elective course “AI & Society” (no relation to the journal) which I have been developing under the guidance of my supervisor Gerd Kortuem over the past couple of years. The syllabus contains a reading list, as well as many self-guided design exercises. Here’s a short description:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly used by a variety of organizations in ways that impact society at scale. This 6 EC master elective course aims to equip students with tools and methods for the responsible design of public AI. During seven weeks students attend a full-day session of lectures and workshops. Students collaborate on a group design project throughout. At the end, students individually deliver a short paper.ID5417 Artificial Intelligence and Society
The third big milestone was the publication of my second journal article in Minds & Machines. It is the theoretical cornerstone of my thesis, a provisional framework for designing contestability into AI systems. Abstract and reference follow. This one is also open access.
As the use of AI systems continues to increase, so do concerns over their lack of fairness, legitimacy and accountability. Such harmful automated decision-making can be guarded against by ensuring AI systems are contestable by design: responsive to human intervention throughout the system lifecycle. Contestable AI by design is a small but growing field of research. However, most available knowledge requires a significant amount of translation to be applicable in practice. A proven way of conveying intermediate-level, generative design knowledge is in the form of frameworks. In this article we use qualitative-interpretative methods and visual mapping techniques to extract from the literature sociotechnical features and practices that contribute to contestable AI, and synthesize these into a design framework.Alfrink, Kars, Ianus Keller, Gerd Kortuem, and Neelke Doorn. “Contestable AI by Design: Towards a Framework.” Minds and Machines, August 13, 2022. https://doi.org/10/gqnjcs.
Around the same time in August, Fabian Geiser, whom I had been mentoring for some time, graduated with a fascinating master thesis and project with the title “Reimagining the smart allocation of road space in Amsterdam for fairness”.
And finally, as these things were going on, I have been quietly chipping away at a third paper that applies the contestable AI by design framework to the phenomenon of camera cars used by municipalities. My aim was to create an example of what I mean by contestable AI, and use the example to interview civil servants about their views on the challenges facing implementation of contestability in the public AI systems they are involved with. I’ve submitted the manuscript, titled “Contestable Camera Cars: A speculative design exploration of public AI that is open and responsive to dispute”, to CHI, and will hear back early November. Fingers crossed for that one.
So what’s next? Well, I have little under a year left on my PhD contract, so I should really begin wrapping up. I am considering a final publication, but have not settled on any topic in particular yet. Current interests include AI system monitoring, visual methods, and more besides. Once that final paper is in the can I will turn my attention to putting together the thesis itself, which is paper-based, so mostly requires writing an overall introduction and conclusion to bookend the included publications. Should be a piece of cake, right?
And after the PhD? I am not sure yet, but I hope to remain involved in research and teaching, while at the same time perhaps getting a bit more back into design practice besides. If at all possible, hopefully in the domain of public sector applications of AI.
That’s it for this update. I will be back at some point when there is more news to share.