Algorithm PRODUCERS are hard to regulate

Because algorithm USERS are hard to educate.

Algorithm PRODUCERS are hard to regulate /img/algorithms-everywhere.jpg

Three months ago, the Markup published a great report about the diffusion and (lack of) regulation of Automated Decision Systems (ADS) by american government agencies.

The reason for the report are basically:

  1. the concern about how algorithms are _“increasingly being employed by government agencies to do everything from informing criminal sentencing and detecting unemployment fraud to prioritizing child abuse cases and distributing health benefits.
  2. the fact that “lawmakers, let alone the people governed by the automated decisions, knew little about how the calculations were being made”

The Markup report contains many examples of such decisions, which in the best cases are half unaccountable, half hard to understand or analize. The conclusions, however, are quite depressing, and may be summarized as follows:

  • Many of the dozens of reforms proposed have either died immediately upon introduction or expired in committees after brief hearings, and even bills to just “create study groups to examine the use of algorithms” failed in several US states
Algorithm PRODUCERS are hard to regulate /img/algorithms.jpg

Why did US legislatures fail to regulate algorithm usage?

The Markup found two main reasons:

  • Lawmakers and the public can’t even know what algorithms their agencies are using, and how those algorithms actually work in the field

  • Big Tech and government contractors lobby very hard, very successfully, to make sure things stay that way

Take-home lesson: algorithms are NOTHING new

The Markup report has lots of details on what is wrong with this state of things, that are useful even for non-American readers. My only purpose here it to point out how the whole story is a good explanation of why ordinary citizens should not be afraid to fight “algorithms”:

albeit much more powerful than others, what we call “algorithms” still are tools to get money and power, in legal, but surely unaccountable ways. Nothing new. Nothing, that is, you should be afraid to KNOW, fight, and keep in check.

Algorithm PRODUCERS are hard to regulate because algorithm USERS and SUBJECTS, that is YOU, are hard to educate. That’s all that Markup report really says. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.