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Computer Science Colloquia

Designing Algorithms for Social Good

Rediet Abebe - Harvard University, Society of Fellows

Dec 5, 2019
3:00 pm to 4:15 pm | Maxwell Dworkin, G115

Algorithmic and artificial intelligence techniques show immense potential to deepen our understanding of socioeconomic inequality and inform interventions designed to improve access to opportunity. Interventions aimed at historically under-served communities are made particularly challenging by the fact that disadvantage and inequality are multifaceted, notoriously difficult to measure, and reinforced by feedback loops in underlying structures.

In this talk, we develop algorithmic and computational techniques to address these issues through two types of interventions: one in the form of allocating scarce societal resources and another in the form of improving access to information. We examine the ways in which techniques from algorithms, discrete optimization, and network and computational science can combat different forms of disadvantage, including susceptibility to income shocks, social segregation, and disparities in access to health information. We discuss current practice and policy informed by this work and close with a discussion of an emerging research area -- Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) -- around the use of algorithms, optimization, and mechanism design to address this category of problems.

Speaker Bio

Rediet Abebe is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and will be receiving her Ph.D. in computer science from Cornell University in 2019. Her research is broadly in the fields of algorithms and AI, using network-based, optimization, and data-driven techniques to address problems concerning equity and social good. As part of this research agenda, she co-founded Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG), a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary research initiative working to improve access to opportunity for historically disadvantaged communities. This initiative has active participants from over 100 institutions in 20 countries and has been supported by Schmidt Futures, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking. She currently serves on the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on AI, tasked with developing a comprehensive report to the NIH leadership.

Abebe was recently named one of 35 Innovators Under 35 by the MIT Technology Review and honored in the 2019 Bloomberg 50 list as a "one to watch." Her work is informing policy and practice at various government and non-government organizations including the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, the Ghanaian Ministry of Health, and the NIH. She has presented her research in venues such as the National Academy of Sciences, the United Nations, and the Museum of Modern Art. She co-founded Black in AI, a non-profit organization tackling diversity and inclusion issues in the field. Her work has been supported by graduate scholarships by Facebook and Google and has been covered by outlets including Forbes, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. Abebe holds an M.S. in applied mathematics from Harvard University, an M.A. in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard College. Her research is deeply influenced by her upbringing in her hometown of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


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