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MediaFutures Seminar: Mind the Gaps and Normal Accidents with Dirk Hovy. Associate Professor, Bocconi University in Milan, Italy.

June 16 @ 14:00 - 15:00

Dirk Hovy, Associate Professor of computer science at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, will give a seminar on 16 June, at 14:00.

TITLE: Mind the Gaps and Normal Accidents
WHEN: Thursday 16 June, 14:00-15:00
WHERE: Zoom – https://uio.zoom.us/j/61874196241?pwd=RHJFZ1FYRzArdHkvbW9salZkd20yUT09


Meeting ID: 618 7419 6241
Password: 577113


NLP is now stable enough to be used in production systems, and will soon become even more pervasive. However, even today’s systems are already highly complex and unpredictable. As they become more ubiquitous, different algorithms will interact with each other directly leading to tightly coupled systems whose capacity to cause harm we will be unable to predict. In his book Normal Accidents, the sociologist Charles Perrow proposed a framework to analyze technologies and their risks according to their complexity and the interdependence of their components. He showed that accidents were nigh on unavoidable due to those two features. We apply Perrow’s framework to NLP to assess its potential risks. We argue that under the current paradigm, “normal accidents” are built into the system, and that it is only a matter of time before they emerge. Some issues in current NLP practice that aid this development are:

– the early adoption of methods without sufficient understanding or analysis;

– the preference for computational methods regardless of risks associated with their limitations;

– the dangers of unexplainable methods.

If these issues are not addressed, we risk a loss of reproducibility, reputability, and subsequently public trust in our field. However, these factors can help us plan better for making our systems safer and more reliable.


Dirk Hovy is associate professor of computer science at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Before that, he was faculty and a postdoc in Copenhagen, got a PhD from USC, and a linguistics masters in Germany. He is interested in the interaction between language, society, and machine learning, or what language can tell us about society, and what computers can tell us about language. He has authored over 70 articles on these topics, including 3 best paper awards. He has organized one conference and several workshops (on abusive language, ethics in NLP, and computational social science). Dirk recently received an ERC Starting Grant for a project on demographic factors and bias in NLP. Outside of work, Dirk enjoys cooking, running, and leather-crafting. For updated information, see https://www.dirkhovy.com


June 16
14:00 - 15:00
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