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Stockholm; 4 Oct 15; The Biosphere Code

Algorithms increasingly permeate all aspects of modern life.
Transport, food production, health care, education, crime-fighting,
art, journalism, music, research, stock exchange, and even love life.
With more and more complex algorithms that can learn from and make
predictions on data we have increased our capacities to collect, process
and disseminate information in ways which is bound to have profound
impacts on society.

But the impacts are and will be more profound than that. Algorithms
are also transforming the way we humans interact with non-human species
and the biosphere – the sum of all world’s ecosystems. This unfolds not
only through the incorporation of algorithms in all aspects of
technologies that support the extraction of natural resources and
modifications of land- and seascapes around the world. Algorithms also
provide the very foundation for how we perceive changes in our
environment - through environmental monitoring systems, climate models,
and data visualizations just to give a few examples. In addition,
algorithms allow for an ever-expanding body of data, knowledge and
scientific insights to be collected and disseminated at a global scale.

Until now however, the way algorithms underpin rapid changes in the
biosphere remain unexplored. This is worrying considering that
environmental changes have reached such proportions to not only affect
planetary processes in a fundamental way, but also create new risks as
Earth rapidly moves into a “non-analogue state”.

Do we need new principles to guide the development of algorithms? Can
we tap into their transformative potential in ways that would not only
decrease pressures on nature, but also unleash human creativity, and
expand human opportunities in ways that are ecological literate?

The following TLab will take place October 4th 2015 in Stockholm
and will gather some of the most interesting thinkers in this domain
from a wide variety of disciplines and sectors. It will include
academics and entrepreneurs; scholars and activists; environmentalists
and financial experts. Our ambition is to present 10 principles that
should guide the future development of algorithms for biosphere
stewardship. That is, algorithms that are sensible to the integrity of
the biosphere and facilitate for better governance of natural capital to
sustain development.

It was an excellent event where we ended up producing 7 principles called the ‘The Biosphere Code’

RHC features here:

###Principle 3. The benefits and risks of algorithms should be distributed fairly

It is imperative for algorithm developers to consider more seriously issues related to the distribution of risks and opportunities. Technological change is known to affect social groups in different ways. In the worst case, the algorithmic revolution may perpetuate and intensify pressures on poor communities, increase gender inequalities or strengthen racial and ethnic biases. This also include the distribution of environmental risks, such as chemical hazards, or loss of ecosystem services, such as food security and clean water.

We recognize that these negative distributional effects can be unintentional and emerge unexpectedly. Shared algorithms can cause conformist herding behavior, producing systemic risk. These are risks that often affect people who are not beneficiaries of the algorithm. The central point is that developing algorithms that provide benefits to the few and present risks to the many are both unjust and unfair. The balance between expected utility and ruin probability should be recognized and understood.

For example, some of the tools within finance, such as derivative models and high speed trading, have been called “weapons of mass destruction” by Warren Buffet. These same tools, however, could be remade and engineered with different values and instead used as “weapons of mass construction". Projects and ideas such as Artificial Intelligence for Development, Question Box, weADAPT, Robin Hood Coop and others show the role of algorithms in reducing social vulnerability and accounting for issues of justice and equity.

This was also released in the Guardian: