With artificial intelligence increasingly integrated into our daily lives, one of the most pressing concerns about this emerging technology is ensuring that the new innovations being developed consider their impact on individuals from different backgrounds and communities. The work of researchers like Cornell Tech PhD student Ben Laufer is critical for understanding the social and ethical implications of algorithmic decision-making.

Laufer was recently named a 2024 Stanford Rising Star in Management Science and Engineering. Those named “rising stars” attend a workshop that is focused on celebrating and fast-tracking the careers of exceptional young scholars across relevant interdisciplinary fields at a critical inflection point in their academic career.

Since starting his doctorate in 2021, Laufer has been pursuing research at the intersection of tech and ethics through Cornell Tech’s Information Science program, which drives the crucial work of studying the interactions between people and technology and how technology is shaping individual lives and social groups.

Through examining information systems like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interaction in their social, cultural, economic, historical, legal, and political contexts, the program has supported both Laufer’s ability to develop the technical skills and analytic tools needed to evaluate the use of technology with an eye toward social good.

“Interdisciplinary programs like Information Science at Cornell Tech are an acknowledgement that a scholarly understanding of technology requires human perspectives in addition to understanding modeling, networks, complex systems, and the more technical aspects of things,” Laufer explained. “My work aims to establish algorithmic accountability and bring an ethical lens to our technical tools in light of some of the corrosive effects that technology can have on society.”

After receiving his undergraduate degree in Operations Research and Financial Engineering from Princeton University, Laufer worked as a data scientist in the Bay Area. The “move fast and break things” ideology in the tech industry led him to be more curious about ethics and accountability.

Most recently, Laufer’s research has been focused on general purpose AI, with an emphasis on capturing the interaction between the general technology, downstream users, and how innovation, new capabilities, and product features do or do not create a trade off with other attributes like safety, performance, and bias.

With AI and Machine Learning technologies being implemented and used across both private and public sectors, Laufer’s research models out the various actors and stakeholders in the field, specifies their interests, and uses a game theory lens to capture their interplay and observes how these factors could have an impact on our society and specific communities.

“Beneficial innovation isn’t in conflict with ethics or regulation, on the contrary, technology needs ethics and regulation to benefit us and earn our trust,” Laufer explained. “We need to continue to empower academic institutions and research centers to ensure that those most harmed by technology have their views represented and that technology is developed in a way that benefits everybody.”

This will only become increasingly important with initiatives like the Empire AI Consortium, which is providing $400 million in funding for artificial intelligence research to New York State’s leading research institutions including Cornell Tech to bridge the gap between profit-driven development and New Yorkers’ public interest – ensuring AI safety and its sustainable ethical impact for the state and beyond as the technology continues its rapid growth.