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Data Analytics and Ethical Responsibility

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Pepperdine University

Editor's Note: This guest blog features Fabien Scalzo, PhD, is Associate Professor of Computer Science, and Director of the Artificial Intelligence in Imaging and Neuroscience Lab at Pepperdine University and UCLA. He teaches courses about medical imaging, computer vision, and machine learning. As part of his research, Dr. Scalzo specializes in building computational models for neuroimaging, and has pioneered the use of machine learning in neurological care. He has published over 200 research papers, and has been an investigator on several neuroscience-related research projects funded by NIH, NSF, AHA, and DARPA. He is Associate Editor for Frontiers in Neurology, and has been the recipient of the NS.

My name is Fabien Scalzo, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Pepperdine University and UCLA. We’re expanding our data analytics curriculum (beyond the business school) to reach more students, touch more departments, and better reflect our ethical values.

Why data analytics and how did it start?

It began one day in the Provost’s office. I happened to see some information about Alteryx. Their software seemed to be in line with my desire to teach students how to analyze data in a variety of applications (biology, physics, and more). This led to our first big ambition - developing a data analytics minor.
The beauty of this minor is that it opens the door for students who might have been intimidated or overwhelmed by a traditional analytics program, especially the programming, stats, and probabilities. We can’t expect every student to become a data scientist, so our vision with this minor is to provide a basic level of theoretical concepts in statistics and math, and then move right into practical learning with real-world practice using Alteryx Designer software, a no-code, code-friendly platform. This is really exciting for us.
I really believe that data analytics are an essential skill for students to add to their toolbelt, because they are applicable in every field of study, and because of the shortage I’ve seen in the job market. Every industry (healthcare, sports, agriculture, entertainment, etc.) has a significant need for the efficiency and insights now available. Innovations in technology lead to new challenges, and that’s why all these industries are looking for talented people trained in these skills. But at the moment, and especially in California, many are struggling to fill open roles that require data analytics ability.

Incorporating ethics

Aside from providing this much needed education, I’m really proud to say that at Pepperdine, we also incorporate ethics wherever we can in our curricula. Why do ethics and a subject like data analytics need to go hand in hand? Simply put, because of its potential to accelerate impact (if used appropriately) for business, healthcare, and social justice. The dilemma we face in this day and age is that we have powerful technology that can help the world, especially as it relates to sharing our resources, but we also need a good framework to bring trust, fairness, and ethics into the mix. Such a framework will need to be universally developed, global, and enforceable.

Integrating with other departments

Additionally, I’m really excited to see that more and more faculty at Pepperdine are getting interested in data analytics and are beginning to integrate it into their research and teaching. A few examples: the business school has a data science program, and the Keck Initiative will bring data science to STEM learning, and we’ll be investing in equipment to help students acquire more accurate data for their projects.
We recently held a conference at Pepperdine, the first of its kind, to gather together data analysts, machine learning gurus, psychologists, ethics experts, tech innovators, and more. Our goal was to communicate across these different fields to define a unified, progressive movement for the benefit of our society as a whole. I dreamt up this event by thinking about what I wish had been available back when I was a student. Our conference was eye opening and inspirational, especially as it demonstrated to thought leaders, educators, and learners the pervasiveness and importance of machine learning and artificial intelligence skills. We were very pleased to include the Alteryx SparkED education program as a sponsor.

‘Human-Centered’ AI

I’d also like to share more about our vision for this program. We call it ‘human-centered’ AI, and that means that we actually make the human being the center of development and primary beneficiary, with other factors responding to (not leading) the work.
Until very recently, most AI has been in the hands of leading commercial organizations that handle very large datasets (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter), and while they have global clout and contributed to improving machine learning algorithms, ethics has historically not been a central priority. As organizations design solutions for society, ethics must be integrated, and then neutrally validated. We recommend mandated accountability to respect basic human rights. For now, we only have FDA recommended guidelines by vertical industry. If we can develop a new generation of analysts and other professionals with ethical sensitivity, we will create the right structure around AI to ensure and enforce the highest standards of usage.
The future stands at our doorstep, with incredibly exciting rewards. But what are the risks? Some of today’s industry actions are not sustainable, and if we continue down this course it will lead to a serious lack of trust in artificial intelligence and machine learning. This would become a significant roadblock that all of us who see the potential rewards want to prevent. If we can get experts in each field to come together to develop an ethical framework, we can ensure more human-centered progress.
Pepperdine is moving in this direction. We’ve embraced teaching data analytics through the Alteryx SparkED education program. We are incorporating important ethical values. Our broad curricula will enable rapid integration of data analytics skills and knowledge in almost every field of study at our university.
The world today is becoming almost completely data-driven. Every organization, government, agency, college, and beyond has an increasing reliance on data. We are teaching our students to help generate good decisions by asking the right questions, acquiring the best data, determining bias, analyzing, predicting, mapping, and sharing their insights.

Learn more about Alteryx SparkED

Alteryx developed SparkED, a global no-cost education program that brings data analytics learning content to colleges, universities, and individual learners. Participants receive free software education licenses, teaching tools, optional faculty training, and self-paced online learning pathways. SparkED is already partnering with nearly 600 universities in 43 countries, and growing fast. Our goal is to reach one million participants by 2023. Not only are we building the talent pipeline in data analytics, but we are leading the way in addressing the global skills gap in this field. Learn more here and get started today.


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