Monday, 15 April 2019

New York City’s algorithm task force is fracturing

In 2017, New York City passed a law to keep the city’s automated systems in check. Local Law 49, the first law of its kind in the nation, established a task force to examine the hidden algorithms governing life in New York and suggested a way for experts to study those tools for error and bias.
As automated systems take over more and more decision-making in cities around the country, the new group could ask key questions about the systems that are being used in New York. Which tools decide who is first — or last — in line for government services? Does automation favor some neighborhoods more than others? If so, who’s being left behind? The new task force could examine those questions and recommend changes where necessary.
But the New York task force now shows signs of fraying, raising troubling questions for the algorithmic accountability movement nationwide. Some members have turned openly critical of the city, accusing officials of failing to provide transparent access to information, effectively turning the task force into a publicity effort instead of a source of accountability.
At a city council hearing earlier this month, city officials said they had not yet come up with a definition of automated decision systems (ADS), the tools that the task force is meant to examine, and they couldn’t identify a single instance of an automated system that the task force could study in detail. “It has taken more time than we originally thought it would take,” an official admitted at the hearing.
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