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Vera Wilde

Dr. Vera Wilde is a political scientist with 15 years’ experience studying bias, technology, and health. After completing National Science Foundation-supported PhD and postdoctoral research at the University of Virginia, UCLA, and Harvard, she co-created the website


Chat Control: Mass Screenings, Massive Dangers
Vera Wilde

As technological changes including digitalization and AI increase infrastructural capacities to deliver services, new mass screenings for low-prevalence problems (MaSLoPPs) appear to improve on old ways of advancing public interests. Their high accuracy and low false positive rates – probabilities – can sound dazzling. But translating the identical statistical information into frequency formats – body counts – shows they tend to backfire. The common (false positives) overwhelms the rare (true positives) – with serious possible consequences. Ignoring this fact is known as the base rate fallacy - a common cognitive bias. Due to pervasive cognitive biases such as this, as well as perverse structural incentives, society needs a regulatory framework governing programs that share this dangerous structure. This framework must work at the system rather than individual level. It should include better mechanisms for evidence-based policymaking that holds interventions to basic scientific evidentiary standards, and a right to deliberate ignorance where relevant. These solutions may help combat perverse incentives and cognitive biases, mitigating the damage from these dangerous programs. But we should expect ongoing sociopolitical struggle to articulate and address the problem of likely net damage from this type of program under common conditions.

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