Barbara J. Grosz Lecture Fund for Engineering and Applied Sciences

How Data Scientists and Social Scientists Can Work Together to Combat Bias in a Digital World?

Desmond Upton Patton, PhD, MSW Brian and Randi Schwartz University Professor of Social Policy, Communications, and Medicine University of Pennsylvania

Mar 30, 2023

From racial profiling through facial recognition software used by law enforcement to algorithms that unfairly target Black and brown users with subpar services and subprime financial practices, biases in the way technology is developed and used are rampant and must be intercepted before they do further damage. The Metaverse – a new combination of emerging technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), extended reality (XR), and blockchain – will create a virtual world for various aspects of human life, from social connections to e-commerce. But will the same algorithmic biases of our current technology carry over to a virtual world? Drawing from his extensive research and fieldwork, Dr. Desmond Upton Patton, Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, founder of SAFElab explains how data scientists, designers, and engineers can prevent bias in AI by collaborating with social science professionals who can help them become more aware of the unintended harms being built into technologies they develop. He also highlights the many ways organizations, developers, users, and society stand to benefit from such collaboration. This important presentation is geared toward organizations, professionals, and policymakers involved in the development and regulation of emerging technologies.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Desmond Upton Patton is the Brian and Randi Schwartz University Professor and the thirty-first Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. A leading pioneer in the field of making AI empathetic, culturally sensitive and less biased, he is the founder of the SAFElab, a social worker with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and was previously the co-director of the Justice, Equity and Technology lab at Columbia School of Social Work. Also, the former Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, a past co-chair of the Racial Equity Task Force at The Data Science Institute and founder of the SIM|ED tech incubator at Columbia University, Patton’s research uses virtual reality to educate youth and policymakers about the ways social media can be used against them and how race plays a part. Professor Patton’s early work attempting to detect trauma and preempt violence on social media led to his current roles as an expert on language analysis and bias in AI and a member of Twitter’s Academic Research advisory board. As a social worker, Patton created the Contextual Analysis of Social Media (CASM) approach to center and privilege culture, context and inclusion in machine learning and computer vision analysis. In 2018, Patton’s groundbreaking finding, which uncovered grief as a pathway to aggressive communication on Twitter, was cited in an amici curiae brief submitted to the United States Supreme Court in Elonis v. United States, which examined the interpretation of threats on social media. Widely referenced across disciplines, Patton’s research at the intersections of social media, AI, empathy and race has been mentioned in The New York Times, Nature, The Washington Post, NPR, Vice News, ABC News and other prestigious media outlets more than seventy times.Professor Patton was appointed Faculty Associate at Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where he was named a 2017-2018 fellow. He won the 2018 Deborah K. Padgett Early Career Achievement Award from the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) for his work on social media, AI and well-being. Patton was a 2019 Presidential Leadership Scholar and Technology and was a Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School.Before joining the faculty at Penn, Dr. Patton was the Senior Associate Dean for Innovation and Academic Affairs at Columbia and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and School of Information. He holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and political science with honors from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan School of Social Work, and a doctorate in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. Desmond Patton is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.


Ariel Procaccia


Liz Palomino