AI and S/he

There was hope that artificial intelligence (AI) would be a better version of us. Well, so far that seems to have failed. Let us take gender bias as a pervasive feature even in modern societies, let alone the societies in medieval or industrial age. AI tends to uphold gender biases and might even reinforce them. Why? A recent paper by Kotek, Dockum, Sun (2023) explains the sources for this bias in straightforward terms. AI is based on Large Language Models. These LLMs are trained using big detailed data sets. Through the training on true observed data like detailed data on occupation by gender as observed in the U.S. in 2023, the models tend to have a status quo bias.
This means they abstract from a dynamic evolution of occupations and the potential evolution of gender stereotypes over years. Even deriving growing or decreasing trends of gender dominance in a specific occupation the models have little ground for reasonable or adequate assessment of these trends. Just like thousands of social scientists before them. Projections into the future or assuming a legal obligation of equal representation of gender might still not be in line with human perception of such trends.
Representing women in equal shares among soldiers, 50% of men as secretaries in offices appears rather utopian in 2024, but any share in-between is probably arbitrary and differs widely between countries. Even bigger data sets may account for this in some future day. For the time being these models based on “true” data sets will have a bias towards the status quo, however unsatisfactory this might be.
Now let us just develop on this research finding. Gender bias is only one source of bias among many other forms of bias or discriminatory practices. Ethnicity, age or various abilities complicate the underlying “ground truth” (term used in paper) represented in occupation data sets. The authors identify 4 major shortcoming concerning gender bias in AI based on LLMs: (1) The pronouns s/he were picked even more often than in Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational gender representations; (2) female stereotypes were more amplified than male ones; (3) ambiguity of gender attribution was not flagged as an issue; (4) when found out to be inaccurate LLMs returned “authoritative” responses, which were “often inaccurate”.
These findings have the merit to provide a testing framework for gender bias of AI. Many other biases or potential biases have to be investigated in a similarly rigorous fashion before AI will give us an authoritarian answer, no I am free of any bias in responding to your request. Full stop.


Flooding after abundant rain fall is an almost worldwide phenomenon. This is why research has taken up the issue for some time now. 2 recently published papers hint at direct and indirect consequences of excessive rain and flooding which usually are not taken into account. The Lancet respiratory medicine has highlighted the second round effects of flooding which consists in the latent danger of mould creeping into buildings even after the immediate effect of the flood has vanished. It is the mould with its longer duration that causes major respiratory health and safety hazards on top of the instantaneous casualties and epidemic health risks (Link to study 2024).
The second study focuses on “the need for more systematic understanding of how societal structures and vulnerabilities moderate disaster risk” (Link to study). In wealthy countries the flood mortality is substantially lower than in comparatively poor countries. More sophisticated anticipation systems play a major role in reducing casualties. Flood-induced displacements remain hard to predict despite a reasonable explanatory power of the statistical model as the authors point out. Additionally it remains an important question to estimate the share of people who (want to) return after being displaced due to flooding. The frequency of flooding plays a role in combination with the severity of flooding. Climate change might be an additional hazard in the sense that more frequent flooding will change the propensity of people to permanently relocate rather than returning after displacement. Social networks, support and solidarity with the victims of flooding as well as reconstruction efforts will play a crucial role in dealing with these environmental hazards.
Building higher dikes is a worthwhile solution in regions that can afford them (Rotterdam example). It is hardly a solution for countries with little resources to invest in protection in face of an already suffering and displaced population. Dealing with mould after the flooding only adds yet another health hazard to an already difficult situation.

Write, write, write

A poster announcing the “internationales literaturfestival berlin 2023” prints in big letters: “Read, read, read, … 14 times”. This is a quote from Werner Herzog when he was asked what makes a good filmmaker. The message from Manjeet Mann to the young audience at Berlin added to this: “write, write, write”. At least this was my impression as a summary of the talk and her short readings from her novel in verse “The crossing”.
The lecture hall of the “Stabi” was packed with students from high-school who felt at ease with the English language presentation and talk. The host Shiva Mesgarian managed to get the crowd of students to ask questions in the huge lecture theatre. Manjeet was giving a lot of insights into writing, editing, motivation and the difficulty to give a voice to persons from marginalized backgrounds. In her case as a person of colour herself, born and raised in England with additional links to India, she took issue with the topic of refugees. Living in Folkestone (Kent), she is confronted with people crossing the Channel on a daily basis.
Her book “The crossing” is actually building bridges between countries and continents. Her entertaining way to talk about her hard work as writer motivates, inspires and encourages young persons to pick up their pencil and/or notebook to start writing. Just don’t stop. Journaling helps. Take your emotions of an issue seriously, then work on it. Give characters a voice who have not received much attention. Go out and interview persons to get authentic input.
It is not about appropriation of a story. It is about meeting and exchanging with marginalised persons. Return your written pieces to those “sensitive readers”, whose story you attempt to develop. All this takes time. Re-writing is an important element as well. “Having written the story for yourself, you then re-write it for the readers”. Edit, clarify, sharpen, blur, attend to detail – all this helps the reader to follow and enjoy. These were the messages to all the students who were grateful for advice as the new season of essay writing in school, university and beyond is about to start.

Europa Meer

Europa und das Meer, so lautet der Titel eines Buches und Katalogs zu einer Ausstellung des Deutschen Historischen Museums (DHM) aus dem Jahr 2018. In 2023 im August sind die Zeitungen voll mit Artikeln über Meererwärmung und die schwerwiegenden Folgen für Menschheit und Bio-diversität. Die Geschichte der Beziehung zwischen Europa und dem Meer ist leidvoll und euphorisch zugleich. Alljährlich zur Sommerszeit wird das Mittelmeer von Wellen mit Touristen überspült die „over-tourism“ erleiden müssen. Menschen sind oft eine in Massen, aber nicht in Maßen, auftretende Spezies. Das Meer spielt zusätzlich eine faszinierende, verheißungsvolle Anziehungskraft aus. Europa sieht sich zudem gerne noch als Dreh- und Angelpunkt der Weltgeschichte.

Der Ausstellungskatalog enthält lesenswerte Beiträge von der Antike übers Mittelalter bis in die Neuzeit. Die Thematisierung von Herrschafts- und Handelsräumen , Brückenschlagen und Grenzziehungen, Meer als Ressource bis hin zum Sehnsuchts- und Imaginationsort bieten eine originelle Herangehensweise. Schon 2018 enthielt der Katalog einen Beitrag zum Massengrab Mittelmeer sowie zum Sehnsuchtsort Hafenmetropole Odessa.

Migration in ferne Länder samt der Verheißung eines vermeintlich besseren Lebens sind so alt wie die Menschheit. Die Weite des Meeres suggeriert zusätzlich die Möglichkeit des Neuanfangs und Althergebrachtes, hinter sich zu lassen. Freiwillig oder gezwungen, das ist dabei oft die entscheidende, unterscheidende Frage.

Kelani Abass, Casing history, Gropiusbau 2023


We teach about the process of gentrification and segregation in sociology in most of our courses. Consulting is also busy with telling policy makers, urban planners and architects about this fundamental social process. A mathematical description of the process has been provided by Schelling as well. A recent striking depiction of the process evolving over years in Brussels is produced by Karim Douieb (dataViz and Jetpack, image below! and more, THANKS). The data is from the Brussels institute of statistics and analysis. Policy-makers have a hard time to work against the well-known tendency: birds of the same feather, gather together. Humans do not seem to be much different, at least when it comes to large metropolitan cities. Only a small China town is missing in Brussels.
What is masked in the grouping by nationalities of residents, is the underlying mechanisms that drive this gentrification. Even previously mixed parts of the city might suffer a slow process of erosion due to educational, job, wealth, poverty and housing differentiation between people and Brussels communities. Falling behind in educational achievement, then higher unemployment leads to lower credit worthiness and residence in less comfortable housing. The Belgian and EU15 residents are much more likely to follow virtuous upward mobility. Hence the process of gentrification trickles down through subsequent generations. Start with learning and socialising of kids and adult learning to overcome the discriminatory process. Ethnic communities will also have to open up to interact with locals. Social progress is hard work for all.