Bittersweet Mysteries of Machine Learning (A Provocation)

Frank Pasquale, professor of law at the University of Maryland, reflects on the roles of machines and machine learning in today’s society, and to what extent ‘opaque’ algorithmic systems should be subject to human oversight.  In the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the mission-controlling computer HAL acts mysteriously, and ultimately malevolently. The theme of “technics out of control” animated several other mid-20th-century films. Common themes emerged, variations on the Frankenstein or “sorcerer’s apprentice” myths. For example, in Colossus: The Forbin Project, a machine assures perpetual peace, but appears capable of controlling much more than nuclear arsenals. It sternly warns one of its creators that “freedom is just an illusion” and “In time you will come to regard me not only with respect and awe, but with love.” The concerns raised by…

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