Data, ethics and humor. Teaching data responsibility through comics.

As the field of data science matures and its practitioners make more and more advancements, many have raised valid questions about how to make these advancements in a manner that is responsible to the people they will impact. As a response to this, CDS faculty Julia Stoyanovich collaborated with Falaah Arif Khan, a Research Fellow in the CVIT Lab at IIIT-Hyderabad and an Artist in Residence at the NYU Center for Responsible AI and at the Montreal AI Ethics Institute, to create the comic “Mirror, Mirror,” the first in a series that attempts to answer the field’s most pressing questions head-on.

The project, created by Data, Responsibly and the Center for Responsible AI @ NYU, was conceptualized to be an approachable educational tool, according to Ms. Khan who said,

“We wanted to make a resource that would cater to as wide an audience as possible, without compromising on the fundamental message in the piece. This meant that there were elements we had to rework repeatedly until they reached a point where even someone with a minimal amount of knowledge on the topic could understand it.”

Integral to that approachability is the humor the comic employs to engage the reader and to delve into complex topics such as ethics in artificial intelligence and data responsibility. For example, “Mirror, Mirror” portrays the balancing act between making fair and feasible models as a unicyclist trying to stay atop a tightrope in an “AI Circus”. Professor Stoyanovich commented on the decision to use humor as a tool in the creation of the comic by saying,

“The whole conversation about ethics and responsibility in AI is so joyless! To learn about a topic, we have to first feel that it’s within reach. And nothing is more helpful for this than a healthy dose of humor. The comic is helping us bring the necessary lightness into the conversation.”

Future volumes of the comic will continue to take on issues in responsible data science that Professor Stoyanovich covers in her CDS courses. Going forward she is eager to work on comics that are able to reach even more people,

“Our first volume is on a series that targets data science students or practitioners. I’m eager to get started on another series for the general public.”

The future of this project looks especially promising given that “Mirror, Mirror” was just awarded the MetroLab Innovation of the Month for September. The accolade is given by MetroLab and Government Technology each month and seeks to “highlight impactful tech, data and innovation projects underway between cities and universities.” The comic was also featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education.



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NYU Center for Data Science

Official account of the Center for Data Science at NYU, home of the Undergraduate, Master’s, and Ph.D. programs in Data Science.