ETC Executive Coffee: Equinix Ponders Consequences of AI

Equinix executives led the fifth installment of ETC@USC’s Executive Coffee with… series. “AI development and ethics, what are the intended and unintended consequences of the rollout?” was the topic of the October 22 discussion. Kaladhar Voruganti, VP of technology innovation and senior fellow, and Doron Hendel, senior manager of global business development, ecosystem development, partnerships and alliances at Equinix led the discussion. Eleven graduate and undergraduate USC students, mostly computer science and data science majors, participated.

Voruganti and Hendel started the session by describing Equinix’s business activities, the current landscape of AI, and Equinix’s work and concerns related to machine learning and artificial intelligence. Hendel said you can recognize when you are communicating with an AI agent because the responses feel less scripted and more natural.

Computer science grad student Aditya Jajodia raised the issue of bias in AI development. He pointed out that real time voice-to-text transcriptions of professors with strong non-U.S. accents contain far more errors than the transcriptions of U.S. native-born speakers. This is especially noticeable now with the push to online coursework driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

Freshman computer science major Isaac Washout found that YouTube’s monetization algorithm disproportionally demonetizes LGBTQ and other minority group videos. Voruganti stressed the importance of knowing the lineage of the model’s data set. Securely tracking data lineage is something that Equinix is developing as a service.

Voruganti also anticipates the creation of a new position — data curator — charged with speaking to all of the departments in the company and signing off on the quality of the data.

Junior business major Katie Wick asked about ways to maintain the safe and ethical use of AI. Hendel discussed data security and privacy, and explained some of the difficulties of establishing AI industry standards and regulations. Washout said that control of personal data should be more than the all-or-nothing options afforded by the click license. None of the students were familiar with any personal data marketplace initiatives. Voruganti described Microsoft’s Decentralized ID program.

Sophomore computer science major Arman Roshannai, who is very concerned about the ethical use of AI, discussed how AI’s ability to make recommendations could be used by governments to sway public opinion. He described how AI could shift political structures from local to central control because AI applications can track individual behavior on a massive scale.

He also pointed out that there is a technical divide between those who understand and care about what is going on and the majority of people who are not aware of the issues associated with the use of AI.

For more of the discussion, check out the 10-minute highlight video online.

The ETC@USC’s Executive Coffee with… Series

The Entertainment Technology Center at USC produced a series of virtual “executive coffee discussions” during the Fall semester. These one-hour discussions provide an opportunity for students and ETC member company executives to connect and discuss topics of mutual interest during this period of remote learning and social distancing.

For each session an executive posed one question or topic, students from across USC submitted brief statements of interest, and the ETC invited between 5 and 16 students to participate in the Zoom meeting. Each session was recorded and an 8- to 13-minute highlight video was produced.

The sessions were hosted by Verizon (September 23), Universal Pictures (September 29 and October 9), Fox Corporation (October 14), Equinix (October 22), ETC execs (October 29), Vubiquity (November 4) and Dolby Labs (November 12).

The videos are available on the Executive Coffee with… page online.