AiTech Agora

The ancient Greek word Agora refers to a public open space used for assemblies and markets. It captures the informal nature of our weekly meetings, a place where exchange of knowledge, ideas, and an engaging conversation takes place. The Agora is held on Wednesdays, beginning with lunch at 12:30, followed by a presentation by one our team members or guest speakers and open discussion until 14:30.

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Next meeting

November 27, 12:30 - 14:30

Topic and speaker: POTs: Protective Optimization Technologies – Seda Gürses

Location: TPM, room B1.300 (Jaffalaan 5, 2628 BX Delft)


The transformation to service-oriented architectures (SOA) and agile development as the dominant modes for producing software has far reaching implications and has given rise to a new type of system: optimization systems. Businesses nowadays can design systems for “ideal” interactions and environments by optimizing feature selection, behavioral outcomes, resource allocation and planning that is in line with a business growth strategy. In spite of their many advantages, such optimization systems often neglect the economic, ethical, moral, social, and political impact they have on populations and their environments, externalizing associated costs on the latter two. Some frameworks have been developed to address the discontents of optimization systems, e.g., algorithmic fairness, however, they cover a narrow subset of these problems. In particular, existing frameworks focus on the inputs and outputs of algorithms, missing the way that harms are manifested when systems interact with the “world”. They focus on users rather than harms and risks for populations, including non-users, and their environments. And, most strikingly, these frameworks rely on the cooperation of service providers. This limits mitigation of externalities to those solutions implemented by an incentivized service provider, failing to explore avenues of action in cases where service providers are not cooperative, intentionally adversarial or simply unable.

In response to this problem, Seda Gürses and colleagues, introduced Protective Optimization Technologies: solutions that enable optimization subjects to defend or push back against these systems’ unwanted consequences. During the talk, Seda will discuss the framework which formalizes the design space of POTs and show how it differs from other design paradigms in the literature. She will show how the framework can capture strategies developed in the wild against real optimization systems, and how it can be used to design, implement, and evaluate prototypes for POTs that enable individuals and collectives to protect themselves from unbalances in a credit scoring applications and the selfishness of traffic beating apps. The prototypes will be used also to demonstrate the workings of optimization systems and the limitations of counter-optimization as a strategy.