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Innovation

In five years, algorithms will drive corporate investments

In a few years, algorithms will help determine which products will be developed. Therefore it is extremely important that we discuss the transparency and the basis of decisions of the algorithms, Professor of Innovation Alf Rehn from SDU points out.

By Birgitte Dalgaard, , 3/25/2021

It is algorithms that feed our brains on social media. Algorithms also control the stock markets and make decisions about what treatment we should be offered in hospitals. Soon they will also be involved in deciding which products should be developed.

– An algorithm race has been started. All of the big companies are talking about it. I say that in five years, large companies' decisions regarding innovation and investments will be supported by algorithms and artificial intelligence, says Professor Alf Rehn from the Department of Technology and Innovation at the University of Southern Denmark.

He is part of the project ‘Algorithms, Data and Democracy’, where researchers have received DKK 100 million from the VILLUM FOUNDATION and the VELUX FOUNDATION to investigate how artificial intelligence affects democracy.

As the algorithms determine more and more, it is important to discuss the data sets that we put into the algorithms and their transparency

Alf Rehn, Professor

– We talk a lot about dark data. When we use Google, we do not know what datasets Google uses to find the right information. It's dark data. As the algorithms determine more and more, it is important to discuss the data sets that we put into the algorithms and their transparency, Alf Rehn emphasises.

Toys for white men

As a professor of innovation, Alf Rehn is concerned that we are missing out on important developments when algorithms are set to make a preliminary sorting the projects. If we are not aware of our own blind spots in the data that we equip the algorithms with, we end up reproducing more of the products we already have.

– We call it innovation bias. If the algorithms think; We have always developed toys for Alf, so now we continue to develop things for Alf, so then there are many people in the world who do not benefit from this innovation, says Alf Rehn, who is a 48-year-old highly educated white man.

He points out that the vast majority of developments today take place to satisfy a minority: namely, the privileged middle-aged western man’s need for entertainment, and for him not to get too fat or lose his hair. At the same time, over 700,000 children die of diarrhoea each year.

If the algorithms do not understand the big problems in the world and continue to develop toys for me, it creates global democratic problems

Alf Rehn, professor

– If the algorithms do not understand the big problems in the world and continue to develop toys for me, it creates global democratic problems.

– It is people who control the foundation of data on which the algorithms make decisions, so it is extremely important that we discuss the transparency and the basis of decisions of the algorithms before these are fixed, says Alf Rehn.

Are algorithms racist?

A research result from M.I.T Media Lab is a shining example that algorithms are no smarter than the dataset they are being trained with. After examining a wide range of face recognition technologies, in 2018, researchers were able to conclude that the technologies had a much easier time identifying a white man than any other combination of skin colour and gender.

The same was true when Google in 2015 had to apologise because an algorithm categorised images of dark people as gorillas.

– It is not because the algorithm is racist, but the algorithm will reproduce the unconscious bias of those who develop the algorithms have. If we do not understand the limitations of the algorithm, then there is a risk that we lose an entire branch of development because the algorithm is programmed to continue developing toys for Alf, Alf Rehn explains and continues:

– I am not saying that it all gets much worse with algorithm-driven innovation. In fact, we have a golden opportunity for it to get better, but it does not happen by itself. This only happens if we are aware of blind spots and are critical of the data that we feed the algorithm.

– If successful, there is a possibility that algorithms will make better choices than the choices people make today.

Facts about the project

  • Project name: Algorithms, Data and Democracy
  • Project partners: University of Copenhagen, Aalborg University, Copenhagen Business School, DPU, Aarhus University and the University of Southern Denmark. The project is led by Professor Sine Nørholm Just from Roskilde University
  • Grant: The VILLUM FOUNDATION and the VELUX FOUNDATION have, as part of anniversary activities in 2021, decided to allocate DKK 100 million to the project
  • Project period: 10 years.
Meet the researcher

Professor Alf Rehn is internationally recognised within innovation and creativity. He is the section leader at SDU Innovation and Design Engineering, Department of Technology and Innovation and has written 18 books - almost all about business management and innovation.

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