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Machine Learning and Cui Bono

Immersed in instructing students how to learn, I forgot that machines learn. Next, I remembered that statistics may resemble GIGO (aka financial chicanery) and realized that remedial measures effectively used in the past may not operate effectively today. Indeed, public policies may be based on fictions, and there’s no one-size-fits-all panacea.

Knowledge of the attendant circumstances and understanding of the exogenous threats are key to effective financial analysis notwithstanding selective data accumulation, data mining, proof by data, etc. A new socially acceptable and artificial shell and its accompanying sets of financial models that appear so rational with their dependence on benchmarks, figures, graphs, and numbers have become the medium through which Wall Street and Main Street are interpreted by experts and lay persons alike, as if high technological modernity had liberated individuals from the usefulness and reliability of intuition and firsthand experience and observation, which are purportedly superseded by a new paradigm of what it means to be an intelligent human being. No more wars, no more systemic errors, no more fraud / irregularities…. Then, I awoke.

High tech and expensive but widely available higher education have not led to a higher moral plane of being and acting. Machine learning could improve these deficient present conditions, if its underlying formative and summative principles were designed with the goal of improving the general welfare and public domain, and if effective inspection and oversight of the implementation of such machine learning were operative. The promise of impartial machine learning should inspire, however the experience of biased programming should deflate any unrealistic expectations (e.g., here and here). Private ordering (aka capitalism) does not invariably result in public betterment.

What is the machine learning and what do the machine’s controllers endeavor to do with such learning – these are key questions. Just as students in accounting may exercise creativity without ethics, computer programmers may create an environment disadvantageous to those outside the beneficiaries of black box operations. Dr. Frankenstein’s monster lives; welcome to the machine.