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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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