The Ethics of Algorithms

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In this edition of Ethical Tech, we'll explore the ethical implications of the rising popularity of algorithmic decision making. In everything from criminal justice to humanitarian aid, more and more of our large-scale decisions are being made by machines and the algorithms that power them. But what are the consequences of this shift?

• Who really controls this process -- the data that feeds it and the results that emerge?

• What is algorithmic "governance" and algorithmic "bias" and why do they matter? What efforts are being made to define and improve algorithmic "transparency" and "accountability"?

• How might this new era of "efficient" decision-making actually lead to new possibilities for justice and decreased suffering? Or something else...?

Join us for an evening of collective conversation about these issues, featuring:

• Hadassah Damien (Technology & Engagement Manager, Participatory Budgeting Project)

• Emmanuel Letouzé (Director & Co-Founder, Data Pop Alliance)

• Brittny Saunders (Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives, NYC Commission on Human Rights)

• Rob Sherman (Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, Facebook)

• Sara Jayne Terp (Director of Data Projects, Ushahidi / Adjunct Professor, Columbia University)

Food and drink to be served.

Click here to follow the transcript crowdsourced for accessibility:


Sara Jayne Terp is Director of Data Projects at The Credit Junction, and teaches various data science and systems design courses at Columbia University Graduate School of Public Affairs, including Data Science for Development and Social Change, and Coding for Development and Social Change. Her research experience includes algorithm development for data science, signal processing, artificial creativity, computer vision, management risk modeling and organizational knowledge analysis using information retrieval, information extraction, natural language processing, machine learning techniques, classification and probabilistic network algorithms. Her commercial work for The Credit Junction works on behavior-based lending, attempting to clarify and promote responsible data use. Previously at Ushahidi, the UN and other organisations includes designing and building systems for humanitarian response, unmanned vehicle control, crowdsourcing, traffic information and intelligence, including detection of early signs of crisis in very large data streams by linking artificial reasoning, community-based mapping, open data, data science and unmanned systems. Her volunteer work includes helping organisations like the UN, Amnesty and Al-Jazeera build situation pictures of disasters from social media feeds and online data, and mentoring emerging organisations and technology hubs into the social space through groups like Geeks Without Bounds and Random Hacks of Kindness.

Rob Sherman is the Deputy Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook, where he is responsible for managing the company's engagement on public policy issues surrounding privacy, security, and online trust. Collaborating with Facebook's product teams, regulators, and other key stakeholders, Rob works to build the company's core commitments to transparency, control, and accountability into every aspect of the Facebook service. Rob joined Facebook from Covington & Burling LLP, where he represented Facebook and other leading technology and digital media companies on regulatory and public policy issues relating to privacy, data security, electronic marketing and communications, and digital content. While in private practice, Rob was recognized by Chambers USA as one of the nation's leading media regulatory lawyers.

Brittny Saunders is Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives at the NYC Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). At CCHR, Brittny manages key inter-agency partnerships and special projects related to data discrimination, racial justice and other topics. Before joining CCHR, Brittny worked for the Office of the Mayor, most recently as Acting Counsel to the Mayor. Prior to that, as Deputy Counsel, Brittny played a central role in the Office’s broadband equity efforts, working to ensure affordable access to high-speed internet for residents of the five boroughs. Brittny was also instrumental in the crafting and passage of legislation barring discrimination on the bases of credit and criminal history in the employment context, as well as legislation related to City immigration policy. Before joining local government, Brittny worked for the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), where she was Supervising Attorney for Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice, driving policy development and advocacy on a range of topics including education and language access. Prior to that, Brittny was Senior Advocate at the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI), where she worked on broadband, transportation and transparency and accountability policies. Brittny was a 2010 Fellow in Media, Information & Communications Policy with the Rockwood Leadership Institute. She has an A.B. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Emmanuel Letouzé is the Director and co-Founder of Data-Pop Alliance, a coalition on Big Data and development co-created in 2013 by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, MIT Media Lab, Overseas Development Institute, joined in 2016 by the Flowminder Foundation as its 4th core member. He is a Visiting Scholar at MIT Media Lab, a Research Affiliate at HHI and a Research Associate at ODI. He is the author of UN Global Pulse’s White Paper “Big Data for Development” (2012) and of the 2013 and 2014 OECD Fragiles States reports. His research and work focus on Big Data’s application and implications for official statistics, poverty and inequality, conflict, crime, and fragility, climate change, vulnerability and resilience, and human rights, ethics, and politics. He worked as a Development Economist for UNDP in New York from[masked] on fiscal policy, post-conflict economic recovery and migration, and between[masked] in Hanoi, Vietnam, for the French Ministry of Finance as a technical assistant in public finance and official statistics. He holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in Economic Demography from Sciences Po Paris, an MA from Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where he was a Fulbright Fellow, and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. He also a political cartoonist for various publications and media as ‘Manu’.

Hadassah Damien develops and designs technologies that are human-centered and which grow communities and capacities. As Technology & Engagement Manager at the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) (, Damien develops innovative systems and digital standards, works in the ecosystem of PB tools, and develops data interfaces. Her decade of technologist work in grassroots movements plus 15 years of organizing leads Damien to intersect functionality with agility, practicality, and the democratic politics of open-source cultures in her work. She holds a MA in American Studies with an ITP Certificate from the CUNY Graduate Center, and a HBA in Semiotics from the University of Toronto. She is also an award-winning LGBTQ art curator, multimedia performer, and develops digital archives of political art. Before joining PBP, she was a worker-owner at Openflows Community Technology. She blogs about activist digital cultures at (, tweets @hadassahdamien ( and gathers it all at ( When not hacking for a more equitable world, Damien can be found on her bicycle in Brooklyn.

A ThoughtWorks initiative. Co-hosted by Data Pop Alliance.