Regulating data science with explanations

Data science has an increasing impact on our lives, and not always for the better. People speak of “Big Data”, and demand regulation, but they don’t really understand what that would look like. I work in one of the few areas where data science is regulated, so I want to discuss one particular regulation and its consequences.

So, it’s finally time for me to publicly admit… I work in the finance sector.

These regulations apply to many different financial trades, but for illustrative purposes, I’m going to talk about loans. The problem with taking out a loan is that you need to pay it back plus interest. The interest is needed to give lenders a return on their investment, and to offset the losses from other borrowers who don’t pay it off. Lenders can increase profit margins and/or lower interest rates if they can predict who won’t pay off their debt, and decline those people. Data science is used to help make those decline decisions.

The US imposes two major restrictions on the data science. First, there’s anti-discrimination laws (a subject I might discuss at a later time). Second, an explanation must be provided to people who are declined.

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Link Roundup: September 2022

In case anyone is interested, this month I wrote “How to tell if you’re allosexual, if you’re a journalist“, about low quality articles that seem intended to exploit SEO.

that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough | Pervert Justice – Gatekeeping trans women from sports ultimately results in gatekeeping cis women as well.  I think this pragmatic argument isn’t the most satisfying, because it doesn’t make a positive case for the inclusion of trans women–but it is, after all, still correct.

Fixing My Brain with Automated Therapy | Jacob Geller (video, 53 min) – Jacob tried five different therapy apps, and talks about the history of teletherapy.  Plenty of interesting discussion, for instance, about how teletherapy constrains the kind of therapy.  He echoes what I’ve said about Eliza–this technology will be cheap, but bad.  More people could have access to therapy this way, and that’s a good thing… but it’s not good therapy.

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Talking about media you haven’t seen

Among people who are close to me, I am renowned for not liking movies or TV. If you’ve ever read my reviews of TV/movies, you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, as I generally do not like things enough to watch them in the first place. I think it’s great living this way, I can only imagine how many lifetimes I have saved by not watching all that stuff. It’s a shame that I waste that extra time by watching media criticism instead.

That’s right, I enjoy video essays that analyze media that I have never watched, and do not have any intention of ever watching. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In the past six years, YouTube media criticism has emerged as a popular genre—as well as an influential source of progressive commentary.

What’s incredible about these videos, is that they appear to have solved one of my lifelong struggles. How do we have a discussion about unshared media—media that not everyone in the audience has experienced?

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Origami: Cootie catcher deluxe

Cootie catcher deluxe

Cootie catcher deluxe, designer unknown

Back when I was going to origami meetups, somebody showed me a design which they called the Cootie Catcher Deluxe.  It’s a variation on the cootie catcher, aka the fortune teller.  There’s some additional ornamentation where your fingers would go–which makes it non-functional as a fortune teller–but I’m not complaining.  Anyway, they couldn’t remember how they made it, and I couldn’t find any mention of it on the internet.  So here we have a legit reverse-engineering problem.  Those are fun.

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Love, Victor reviewed

After finishing and reviewing the first season of Heartstopper (TV series), we were looking for another show to watch, and landed on Love, Victor, available on Disney+. This is a very different kind of show than Heartstopper, and I daresay I prefer it. Where Heartstopper is a well-done if formulaic series committed to low stakes, Love, Victor is basically a soap opera that had us constantly yelling at the screen.

Love, Victor is a spinoff of the movie Love, Simon (which I have seen but do not remember). Victor is a closeted gay kid at Simon’s old high school, and he writes Simon hate mail because he thinks Simon must have had it so much easier. Simon responds much more kindly than I would have, and serves as a remote mentor for the first season and a half. The show primarily focuses on Victor and his circle of friends, who are seemingly embroiled in an endless series of love triangles.

I wrote a series of reactions/complaints as we watched Love, Victor over the past two months, and I have attempted to organize them into something coherent. I won’t be going through the whole show episode by episode, but I will include incidental spoilers for all three seasons.

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Asexuality 101, annotated

This article is being cross-posted to my other blog, The Asexual Agenda.

Some people may have seen the Asexuality 101 page linked on the side bar of A Trivial Knot. I originally wrote that article in 2011, and transported it from blog to blog, occasionally making updates.

Since the beginning, the purpose of the article was to “get it over with”. I had a lot of non-ace readers, but didn’t want to explain the basics over and over again. So the idea was to silently educate readers before they left ignorant comments, saving me energy and saving them embarrassment. These days, awareness of asexuality is so much higher, which leaves me wondering whether the page is necessary, but it sure doesn’t hurt to leave it there.

You can still see older versions preserved on my previous blogs and in the wayback machine if you’re really interested. The article reflects shifting conventional wisdom in how we do asexuality 101, as well as some idiosyncratic choices on my part. Here’s a point by point discussion of why I wrote it that way.

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Link Roundup: August 2022

In case anyone’s interested, this month I wrote a whirlwind history of asexual communities.

Facial Expressions Do Not Reveal Emotions | Scientific American – I’m a big fan of psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett and her writing about the construction of emotional categories.  Here she criticizes emotional recognition tools created by data scientists, and I’m inclined to agree.  AI can, at best, identify patterns in facial muscle movement, but the correspondence between facial muscle movement and emotions is culturally mediated, because the emotional categories themselves are culturally constructed.  If you use this AI to make any important decisions that impact people’s lives, there will be unacceptable disparate impact against people of different cultures, or with variant emotional expressions.  Frankly, we should be striving to reduce the impact of emotional expression in job interviews and court decisions.  It’s discriminatory enough when humans are the ones doing it.

Blame It on the Game | Real Life – When I was a teenager, there was a lot of fear of censorship in video games.  The big thing was the Hot Coffee controversy, but there was also a lot of defensiveness of the violence in video games, which gamers would insist was unconnected to violence in the real world.  Games criticism has changed a lot since back then, and gamers are more likely to play up how much games impact the real world.  Gamers today aren’t wrong, but neither were they wrong back then.  The research on violent video games finds “small, reliable effect of exposure to violent video games on aggressive outcomes in laboratory experiments and cross-sectional and longitudinal studies,” but that’s still pretty far from causing shootings.  In this article, Katherine Cross navigates old and new discourses to talk about the real significance of video game violence.

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