Desmond U. Patton

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Pioneer and Social Engineer at the Intersection of Artificial Intelligence, Social Media, Empathy, Race and Society; Founding Director, SAFE Lab; Co-director, Justice, Equity and Technology Lab; Associate Dean for Innovation and Academic Affairs, Columbia University; Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights

Biography

We increasingly interact with artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms in our daily lives – when we go online, when we apply for credit, when we are screened by facial recognition technology. AI – while “intelligent” – often lacks the other qualities that would make it human, such as empathy and fairness. In another sense, AI can be all too human, drawing on flawed data to replicate human bias.

Dr. Desmond Upton Patton, Associate Dean for Innovation and Academic Affairs, founding director of the SAFE Lab and co-director of the Justice, Equity and Technology lab at Columbia School of Social Work, is a leading pioneer in the field of making AI empathetic, culturally sensitive and less biased. Through keynote presentations and interactive workshops, Patton is helping organizations develop a better approach to diversity and inclusion that includes fairer practices that address the challenge of prejudice, rather than contribute to it. Also the founder of the SIM|ED tech incubator at Columbia University, Patton’s research uses virtual reality to educate youth and policymakers about the ways social media can be used against them and how race plays a part.

Professor Patton’s early work attempting to detect trauma and preempt violence on social media led to his current role as an expert on language analysis and bias in AI. As a social worker, Patton realized existing gold standard data science techniques could not accurately understand key cultural nuances in language amongst predominantly black and Hispanic youth. In response, he created the Contextual Analysis of Social Media (CASM) approach to center and privilege culture, context and inclusion in machine learning and computer vision analysis. CASM can be applied by businesses and other organizations to observe social media and workplace communication channels for potentially incendiary language, which taken out of context can lead to violence. With this methodology, organizations can better foster diverse and inclusive environments and minimize employee conflict. Further, Patton’s insights on creating non-biased and culturally nuanced algorithms give tech companies a holistic perspective on various business and social issues. The companies that adopt these proactive measures are then able to ensure they are not unintentionally propagating bias.

In 2018, Professor Patton published a groundbreaking finding in the prestigious Nature journal, Digital Medicine, which uncovered grief as a pathway to aggressive communication on Twitter. The report was cited in an amici curiae brief submitted to the United States Supreme Court in Elonis v. United States, which examined the interpretation of threats on social media. Widely referenced across disciplines, Patton’s research at the intersections of social media, AI, empathy and race has been mentioned in the New York Times, Nature, Washington Post, NPR, Vice News, ABC News and other prestigious media outlets more than seventy times in the last three years.

Professor Patton won the 2018 Deborah K. Padgett Early Career Achievement Award from the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) for his work on social media, AI and well-being. He was named a 2017-2018 fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and is a 2019 Presidential Leadership Scholar and Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School.

Before joining the faculty at Columbia, Dr. Patton was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and School of Information. He holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and political science with honors from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and a doctorate in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.

Desmond Patton is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, executive training and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

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Patton, Desmond U.

Biography

We increasingly interact with artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms in our daily lives – when we go online, when we apply for credit, when we are screened by facial recognition technology. AI – while “intelligent” – often lacks the other qualities that would make it human, such as empathy and fairness. In another sense, AI can be all too human, drawing on flawed data to replicate human bias.

Dr. Desmond Upton Patton, Associate Dean for Innovation and Academic Affairs, founding director of the SAFE Lab and co-director of the Justice, Equity and Technology lab at Columbia School of Social Work, is a leading pioneer in the field of making AI empathetic, culturally sensitive and less biased. Through keynote presentations and interactive workshops, Patton is helping organizations develop a better approach to diversity and inclusion that includes fairer practices that address the challenge of prejudice, rather than contribute to it. Also the founder of the SIM|ED tech incubator at Columbia University, Patton’s research uses virtual reality to educate youth and policymakers about the ways social media can be used against them and how race plays a part.

Professor Patton’s early work attempting to detect trauma and preempt violence on social media led to his current role as an expert on language analysis and bias in AI. As a social worker, Patton realized existing gold standard data science techniques could not accurately understand key cultural nuances in language amongst predominantly black and Hispanic youth. In response, he created the Contextual Analysis of Social Media (CASM) approach to center and privilege culture, context and inclusion in machine learning and computer vision analysis. CASM can be applied by businesses and other organizations to observe social media and workplace communication channels for potentially incendiary language, which taken out of context can lead to violence. With this methodology, organizations can better foster diverse and inclusive environments and minimize employee conflict. Further, Patton’s insights on creating non-biased and culturally nuanced algorithms give tech companies a holistic perspective on various business and social issues. The companies that adopt these proactive measures are then able to ensure they are not unintentionally propagating bias.

In 2018, Professor Patton published a groundbreaking finding in the prestigious Nature journal, Digital Medicine, which uncovered grief as a pathway to aggressive communication on Twitter. The report was cited in an amici curiae brief submitted to the United States Supreme Court in Elonis v. United States, which examined the interpretation of threats on social media. Widely referenced across disciplines, Patton’s research at the intersections of social media, AI, empathy and race has been mentioned in the New York Times, Nature, Washington Post, NPR, Vice News, ABC News and other prestigious media outlets more than seventy times in the last three years.

Professor Patton won the 2018 Deborah K. Padgett Early Career Achievement Award from the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) for his work on social media, AI and well-being. He was named a 2017-2018 fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and is a 2019 Presidential Leadership Scholar and Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School.

Before joining the faculty at Columbia, Dr. Patton was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and School of Information. He holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and political science with honors from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and a doctorate in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.

Desmond Patton is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, executive training and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

How to Foster Diversity and Inclusion

The benefits of diversity and inclusion are commonly touted by organizations, that then go on to pay little attention to them. Too often, organizations believe they have fulfilled the requirements of diversity by hiring a certain number of minorities and women but fail to create the underlying cultural conditions for allowing those minorities and women to feel comfortable and thrive. In this presentation, Dr. Desmond Upton Patton draws on his background in social work and designing empathetic, culturally sensitive algorithms to analyze social media content to help organizations develop a better approach to diversity and inclusion. He reveals how language and data taken out of context can fail to anticipate conflict – both online and in the workplace – and how algorithms and datasets can be developed that address these issues. Crucially, Patton urges organizations to see diversity not as a self-sustaining condition but as something that needs to be continually nurtured through dialogue and the input of people from different perspectives and from differing backgrounds.

Bias in AI – The Next Battle for Equity

Artificial intelligence is, well, intelligent. But that does not mean AI is fair. AI algorithms commonly make biased decisions adversely affecting women and people of color, on matters ranging from credit allocation to prison sentencing. This is because AI relies on datasets that unconsciously teach machines to replicate injustice, fail to understand cultural nuance or context, and are designed primarily by white men, who often lack the ability to anticipate negative impacts on others. In this presentation, Dr. Desmond Upton Patton draws on his own experiences challenging AI bias to show how organizations can help defeat this emerging social problem. As AI becomes more crucial to decision-making across industries, those who care about equity, fairness and justice will have to take notice of how bias is being unconsciously promoted by technology. On this front, Patton is a trailblazer, expert and foremost authority.

Building a Healthier Social Media Ecosystem

Social media – once promoted as a global unifier – has become a driving force in dividing people and spreading hatred. Online vitriol has reached new heights, and now actively contributes to – rather than simply reflecting – intense political, cultural, racial and religious divisions throughout the world. Dr. Desmond Upton Patton, a social worker, took an interest in social media when he realized how much online animosity drove violence in disadvantaged communities. Now he is a leading expert on contextualizing social media conversations and designing algorithms that detect trauma, pain and the types of exchanges that can potentially lead to conflict. In this presentation, Patton shows how he has successfully developed ways to identify unhealthy social media discourse and use, and counsel individuals to be more empathetic. These lessons can be used by organizations of all types to promote healthier online activity, whether among employees, customers or entire communities.

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Recommendations

“Dr. Desmond Upton Patton was the keynote speaker for the Jane Addams College of Social Work 10th Annual Training Institute for School Social Work Professionals. His presentation “Impact of Social Media on Youth” was innovative and inspiring. He explored the intersection of youth, gang violence and social media, as well as the use of cutting-edge technology to understand the ways youth express themselves on social media.  His research in this area is both pioneering and proactive, and can shape the future of mental health practice in schools.  He is a presenter that should be included on every school district’s in-service training agenda. You will not be disappointed with his outstanding presentation style, and the amazing content that he shares.”

—Annette Johnson, Clinical Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

“For us at Facebook, Prof. Patton is a valued partner and subject matter expert. An important challenge in our work of content review is understanding local context. We want to enforce our policies – to decide what content to leave on the site, and what content to remove – based on the best possible understanding of circumstances “on the ground.” By sharing his insights on youth in Chicago, Prof. Patton has provided us with a useful laboratory for thinking about how to interpret local patterns of speech. We hope to work with him to apply these lessons in other areas.”

— Peter Stern, Manager, Product Policy Team, Facebook

“The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign invited Dr. Patton to share his work as part of our inaugural seminar series called, “Harnessing Technology for Social Good.” Dr. Patton agreed to be a part of the seminar right away. His talk was the last scheduled seminar for the year and one of the most highly anticipated talks given the topic. Without question, Dr. Patton delivered. His talk blew the audience away. I was particularly struck by how his presentation captivated both the minds and the hearts of people in the audience, which in my mind was no easy task because he was speaking to academic faculty and 8th graders from the Southside of Chicago. Dr. Patton did a terrific job of engaging everyone in the room. At the end of the talk, Dr. Patton met with the students 1:1 and talked about his career trajectory and pathway to academia, again captivating young people in ways that was inspiring. I would highly recommend Dr. Patton as a speaker.”

— Judy Havlicek, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Illinois

“The Hunter College (CUNY) partner site of the Summer Institutes in Computational Social Science (SICSS) recently invited Dr. Patton to serve as a guest speaker at our location. The audience was mainly comprised of doctoral students from across the social and health sciences, from over 8 top-ranked universities across the country, and we discussed the myriad issues involved in using social media data for social science inquiry. Dr. Patton’s real-world examples of the complexity of social media posts, particularly from marginalized communities, and his compelling and clear descriptions of best analytic practices was instrumental in shaping our participants’ understanding of ethical approaches to the analysis of digital trace data. Our audience was just being introduced to these data and methods, and Dr. Patton’s clear, concise, and plain language facilitated their engagement with these topics in a concrete fashion. Dr. Patton was highly responsive and exceeded our requirements in every regard. In short, Dr. Patton is a tremendous public scholar, and it was our pleasure to work with him. I would highly recommend Dr. Patton as a speaker.”

— Maria Y. Rodriguez, MSW, PhD., Assistant Professor, Silberman School of Social Work , CUNY

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