Data, Algorithms and Policy — LIRNEasia

On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. 

— Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), Chap. 5, 59.

We live in a society where machines, algorithms and humans intertwine; where the “consensual hallucination” of cyberspace is no longer a separate part of our lives, but a swamp through which we wade, leaving data trails for the world to see; where the wrong people put the wrong figures into the wrong machines and wonder why the answer isn’t right. Terms like “Big Data” and “AI” have become Rorschach blots on the public consciousness

LIRNEasia’s role is to participate in the public policy dialogue around our algorithmically-inclined society with critical research and technical expertise. Since 2013, as cross-disciplinary team of data scientists, lawyers, and social scientists, we have conducted our own analyses, engaged deeply with policy makers and with private, data-heavy organizations.


  • (Presentation) Risk Communication in a Pandemic: Preliminary findings from the Asia Pacific

    Rohan Samarajiva and Ramathi Bandaranayake presented preliminary findings from our work on risk communication during COVID-19.

  • Wearable Contact Tracing: Key Considerations and Recommendations for Public Health Officials in Developing Wearable Contact Tracing Solutions During COVID-19

    App-based contact tracing solutions have become popular during COVID-19. However, most such apps have seen mixed results with limited citizen uptake and numerous privacy and ethical concerns. Wearable contact tracing devices, which promise several improvements over app-based solutions, have met with considerable interest in recent times. This document explores the key considerations in developing and deploying wearable contact tracing devices and provides recommendations to decision makers.

  • Guidance on Making Policy Decisions in a Pandemic (Policy Brief)

    During a pandemic, the emergence of scientific knowledge may be slow and subject to sudden change. However, swift and decisive policy making is often needed to minimize the damage caused by a pandemic. As a result, policy makers often need to make quick decisions with limited knowledge. This policy brief provides ethics-based guidance for decision making in pandemic-related policy. We situate this guidance in the COVID-19 pandemic, and focus on the following areas: Decision making under uncertainty Privacy of the infected and exposed The ethics of digital contact tracing technologies Restricting the movement of people in quarantine and during lockdowns

  • Sinhala Language Corpora and Stopwords from a Decade of Sri Lankan Facebook

    Wijeratne, Y., de Silva, N. (2020).  Sinhala Language Corpora and Stopwords from a Decade of Sri Lankan Facebook. LIRNEasia. Last updated: July 13, 2020. This paper presents two colloquial Sinhala language corpora extracted from Facebook, as well as a list of algorithmically derived stopwords. Corpus-Alpha The larger of the two corpora spans trilingual text posted by 533 Sri Lankan Facebook pages, including politics, media, celebrities, and other categories, from 2010 to 2020. It contains 28,825,820 to 29,549,672 words of text, mostly in Sinhala, English and Tamil (the three main languages used in Sri Lanka). It contains URLs, punctuation and other noise, making it more suitable for discourse analysis and the study of codemixing in colloquial Sinhala. Corpus-Sinhala-Redux The smaller corpus amounts to 5,402,76 words of only Sinhala text extracted from Corpus-Alpha. It has been cleaned of URLs, punctuation and noise. Both corpora have markers for their date of creation, page of origin, and content type. License These datasets are released under the principles of Open Access. As such, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons 4.0 CC BY licence: you may distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon this work, even commercially, as long as you credit the authors for […]

  • The State of the Art in Leveraging Public Domain Remote Sensing Data for Development Purposes

    A research brief which explores the key data sources, algorithmic techniques and roadblocks in applying remote sensing techniques for development.

  • A Brief Primer on Bias in Machine Learning and Algorithmic Decisions [White Paper]

    A white paper exploring how bias in algorithms and data affect development problems, especially when they interact with socio-legal systems

  • Data in the time of COVID-19: what can be done in the global south?

    This tour d’horizon examines the possible of uses of data to help stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 directly.  It gives weight to what can be done in the short term.

  • Generating Privacy-Preserving Artificial Call Detail Records (CDRs) from Mobile Phone Subscriber Profiles [PAPER]

    A research paper exploring an alternative approach to address the concern of privacy in sharing big data datasets by generating privacy-preserving artificial call detail records (CDRs) in accordance with the desired macro features of the dataset.

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