This is part of our ‘Meet Our Delegates’ series where we introduce you to social scientists and technologists who are attending the conference.
MEET REBECCA GU
Rebecca, you’re an economist and you work for Baringa, a management consultancy in London. As an economist, you are interested in understanding how algorithms might change markets and human behaviour and that you focus on the role that regulation plays within safeguarding consumers while also ensuring innovation. Can you tell us a bit more about that and any interesting projects you’re working on?
Much of my experience has been looking at issues of consumer welfare, and lately this has crossed over into the digital space. In my previous role, I authored a white paper on the relationship between pricing algorithms and competition or fairness issues. This is currently a hot area of debate amongst the regulatory and legal community. In my current role, I act as an intermediary between the data science and economics practices at Baringa, where we have been looking at the ways in which pricing algorithms may create regulatory challenges.
I act as an intermediary between the data science and economics practices at Baringa, where we have been looking at the ways in which pricing algorithms may create regulatory challenges.
Our research is an extension of a debate on pricing algorithms which has been mainly conceptual to date. We have built pricing algorithms within a simulated marketplace – the economic intuition is that firms should compete strongly on price. However, we demonstrate that algorithms can be inadvertently programmed to sustain higher than expected prices, based on design features which may be considered quite innocent. This is important in providing some early indication to regulators regarding what types of regulation may be effective.
Why are you excited to attend the conference and what do you hope to get from attending?
As Jean Tirole states, economics is a study of the means, not the ends. It’s important to have an idea of what ends should be guiding our discussions. Economic regulation has traditionally focused on issues of efficiency, consumer welfare and innovation. However, there is discussion, partly based on changes in digital innovation, about whether we need to expand our set of considerations to include other normative considerations which were traditionally not in focus – this includes issues such as distributional fairness.
AI ethics is an area where normative values and economic regulation may interact more strongly in the future.
AI ethics is an area where normative values and economic regulation may interact more strongly in the future. For example, is it ethical for pricing algorithms to use personal information extract the maximum price from me when I shop online, even if I agree to the transaction? Pricing is of course a very narrow consideration and the fixation of economists – I’m excited to better understand what others in the community think are the most pertinent ethics issues.
In your opinion, why do you think other economists or management consultants should attend the conference?
Baringa is at the heart of implementing AI and data science in practice, and works closely with many industries and clients at all stages of their AI journey. There’s currently a disconnect in those who are discussing/researching AI ethics and regulation, and those firms which are implementing and innovating with AI. It is important for us to be aware of the dialogue in this space.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us or say?
I’ve never been to Bristol! As a Canadian import, I’ve got a shamefully long list of places to visit in this country. I’m looking forward to both meeting people at the conference and the post-conference pub!
Thanks so much, Rebecca, we look forward to meeting you in October!