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November 29, 2019

Artificial Intelligence Bias, Russia, Fentanyl: RAND Weekly Recap

This week, we discuss what to do about bias in algorithms; Russia's limits in the Middle East; learning from other countries' experiences with fentanyl; what protests could mean for democracy in the Middle East; how cities can help U.S. diplomacy; and helping U.S. Army special operations forces assess their missions.

Jennifer Bailey, VP of Apple Pay at Apple, speaks about the Apple Card during an Apple special event in Cupertino, California, March 25, 2019, photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

Jennifer Bailey, VP of Apple Pay at Apple, speaks at an event in Cupertino, California, March 25, 2019

Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

What to Do About Bias in Algorithms

Earlier this month, a controversy about gender bias in the Apple Card algorithm lit up social media; an outraged tech executive posted about how his credit line was 20 times higher than his wife's, even though the two share all assets. According to RAND's Osonde Osoba, problems like this may become more common as artificial intelligence is used in more kinds of decisionmaking. It's not always possible to pinpoint how a complex algorithm led to a bad outcome, he says. But there are ways for companies to audit algorithms for sexist, racist, biased behaviors. Government regulations could also help.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan attend the official welcome ceremony in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 15, 2019, photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, October 15, 2019

Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/Reuters

Russia's Limits in the Middle East

Since the mid-2000s, a new Russian approach to the Middle East has emerged. Moscow is engaging in economic deals, deepening partnerships, and balancing relationships with regional rivals. This pursuit of short-term, transactional relationships appears to be reaping dividends. But according to a new paper by RAND's Becca Wasser, it's not without risks. In fact, the very strengths of Russia's approach in the near term may be its undoing in the long run.

Fentanyl in a vial, photo by designer491/Getty Images

Photo by designer491/Getty Images

The Future of Fentanyl: Lessons from Europe

Five years ago, few Americans had heard of fentanyl. But by 2018, this synthetic opioid was implicated in more than 30,000 overdose deaths. To understand how the opioid crisis might continue to evolve, the United States could learn from the experiences of European countries. That's according to RAND's Jirka Taylor and University of Maryland professor Peter Reuter. One key takeaway: Once a synthetic opioid like fentanyl grabs hold of a drug market, it doesn't let go. This suggests that U.S. policymakers should prepare for synthetic opioids as a lasting phenomenon.

An Iraqi demonstrator gestures during the ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq, November 18, 2019, photo by Alaa Al-MarjaniReuters

An Iraqi demonstrator gestures during the ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq, November 18, 2019

Photo by Alaa Al-MarjaniReuters

What Protests Could Mean for Democracy in the Middle East

The mass anti-government protests in Iraq and Lebanon show no signs of stopping. RAND's Jordan Reimer says the ongoing turmoil could be called the “Bizarro Arab Spring.” Why? Demonstrators are trying to topple popularly elected governments, rather than authoritarian leaders. But demanding “regime change” in a democracy may not be a recipe for government to be more representative, he says. In fact, the exact opposite is more likely.

People shaking hands over an image of a city with a globe superimposed over the top, photo by chombosan/Getty Images

Photo by chombosan/Getty Images

How Cities Can Help U.S. Diplomacy

Cities don't sign international treaties, have embassies around the world, or take part in global economic forums. But engagement with cities can help enhance U.S. diplomacy, global image, and influence, say RAND's Rafiq Dossani and Sohaela Amiri. Embracing this idea of “city diplomacy” doesn't mean undermining diplomacy by the federal government. Rather, it could help the United States conduct international affairs in a fast-paced, hyperconnected world.

Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group Airborne, move to load onto a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during a training event near Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, August 27, 2019, photo by Sgt. Steven Lewis/U.S. Army

Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group Airborne during a training event near Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, August 27, 2019

Photo by Sgt. Steven Lewis/U.S. Army

Helping U.S. Special Ops Assess Their Missions

Conducting rigorous and timely assessments can be a challenge for U.S. Army special operations forces. This is particularly difficult for special forces headquarters with smaller staffs and budgets. To help them better determine the success (or failure) of a mission, RAND researchers developed a new seven-step guide. The process focuses on involving the entire special operations forces team in an assessment.

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