Northeastern professor headed to White House’s Office of Science Technology Policy

headshot of alan mislove
Alan Mislove. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern University professor Alan Mislove is headed to the White House.

A senior associate dean for academic affairs in the Khoury College of Computer Sciences, Mislove recently accepted a temporary position as assistant director for data and democracy in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

Mislove will focus on issues affecting automated systems and practices related to technology, data and privacy. 

Mislove is pausing his teaching and research at Northeastern, but not leaving the university. The appointment in the federal office is for one year.

Mislove’s research interests have focused primarily on algorithmic auditing—the practice of, broadly speaking, “assessing, mitigating, and assuring an algorithm’s legality, ethics and safety.”

Mislove’s more recent auditing work has centered around how Facebook’s algorithms for delivering advertisements to users contain certain biases, targeting people based on race, gender and age. He’s previously alluded to the inherent difficulty of creating algorithms with an eye toward fairness—something articulated by the Biden White House in recent months. 

A response to the complicated, evolving technology-privacy landscape, the White House unveiled a policy framework, called the AI “bill of rights,” that provides a set of principles and best practices to help make algorithmic systems safe and effective, defend user privacy and provide safeguards against algorithmic discrimination. 

“It really sets a number of guidelines and ideal properties we would want in automated systems so that society as a whole can enjoy the benefits of these systems,” Mislove says.

Northeastern has tried to shine a spotlight on justice and fairness in data use, highlighting the real-world impact of discriminatory algorithms and practices that big tech companies have, in some cases, tried to keep secret. 

“There are a number of researchers at Khoury, as well as other colleges across [Northeastern], who have been working on problems of algorithmic fairness, bias, discrimination and justice,” Mislove says. 

Released to the public in October, the White House’s AI bill of rights is one of the first documents of its kind to address AI-based tools. In it, five basic principles are outlined: safe and effective systems, algorithmic discrimination protections, data privacy, notice and explanation and human alternatives, consideration, and fallback.

“In America and around the world, systems supposed to help with patient care have proven unsafe, ineffective or biased,” the bill of rights document reads. “Algorithms used in hiring and credit decisions have been found to reflect and reproduce existing unwanted inequities or embed new harmful bias and discrimination. Unchecked social media data collection has been used to threaten people’s opportunities, undermine their privacy, or pervasively track their activity—often without their knowledge or consent.”

Mislove says he’s excited about the opportunity, and will “continue to consult with Khoury Dean Elizabeth Mynatt on ongoing projects on an as-needed basis.” He added that his experience working at a large global university like Northeastern will be of huge help to him in the new role.

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @tstening90.