Jack Bandy is a Ph.D. student in Northwestern's Technology and Social Behavior program.


What is Technology and Social Behavior?

In less than a couple decades, we went from a world without Facebook, Google, Spotify, Netflix, iPhones, etc., to a world where most of us use these algorithm-based tools and services for hours each day. Despite their widespread use, we are only beginning to understand their social and ethical implications. In the same way that ecologists must study biological properties of animals and emergent animal behaviors, it is important to study technical aspects of algorithms and their emergent behavior within society. As a recent paper in my field explained, to fully understand something like the Netflix recommendation algorithm demands that we study "the social environments in which algorithms operate."

Here are a few questions that people in this field are thinking about:

  • What happens when an algorithm chooses the news, movies, and music that a culture consumes?
  • Should an algorithm choose where police cars patrol? What are the implications of using such an algorithm?
  • How can we mitigate the human biases that are embedded not only in the data we use to train algorithms, but also in the structure of the algorithm itself?
  • How can we design algorithms that embed positive human values?

While many find these questions "interesting," they have real-world impact beyond mere amusement. Biased algorithms have been deployed for facial recognition, recidivism prediction, credit scores, hiring, and more -- Cathy O'Neil's book provides an alarming collection of real-world examples. People often assume life with these algorithms is better, but as Margaret Atwood put it poignantly, "better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some." Many algorithms that appear to make life better actually have a disparate impact on society: they favor some people, and leave others out to dry.

One of the biggest reasons I am pursuing my Ph.D. is to wrestle with the following question: how might we design algorithms to make life better for more people?

Publications

Favorite Books & Stories

Here are a few books, stories, and essays that have significantly influenced (and in most cases, guided) my thinking about human-computer interaction and/or life. Let me know what's missing!

My CV

Find a PDF of my untrimmed CV here.

Personal Tidbits

Some personal information you may or may not care about: