Digital and data driven solutions distract governments and associated authorities from ‘real issues’ in the society. French philosopher, Bernard Stiegler noted that the digital tasks only serve to ‘increase the distance’ between technological systems and social organizations.
However, reports reveal that the tech industry, the media and governments are ‘obsessed’ with building bigger and bigger data sets to iron out social biases. But experts say that digital technology alone cannot and ‘can never’ solve social issues. Collecting more data and writing better algorithms only ‘create an illusion of progress’. Algorithms are a sequence of instructions used to solve a problem and are the ‘building blocks’ of today’s advanced digital world.
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The use of algorithms in policing is just one example of its increasing influence on everyday lives. One such policy is CRUSH, which stands for Criminal Reduction Utilizing Statistical History. This was developed by a team of criminologists and data scientists at the University of Memphis using IBM predictive analytics software. They compiled crime statistics from across the city over time and overlaid it with other datasets such as social housing maps and outside temperatures etc., then instructed algorithms to search for correlations in the data to identify ‘crime hotspots’. The police then targeted the areas with highly targeted patrols.
Similar algorithms are used for bank approvals, store cards, and job matches etc. However, trying to solve problems through more data and better algorithm only serve to hide the underlying causes of inequality.
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Dr Panos Parpas, a lecturer in the department of computing at Imperial College in London, says the most complicated algorithms are found in science, where its used to design new drugs or model the climate. “The difficulties come when they are used in social sciences and financial trading, where there is less understanding of what the model and output should be, and where they are operating in a more dynamic environment.
Doug Specht, a senior lecturer in Media and Communications at the University of Westminister says collecting more data doesn’t actually make people better represented. “Instead it serves to increase how much they are being surveilled by poor regulated tech companies. The companies become instruments of classification, categorizing people into different groups through gender, ethnicity and economic class until their database looks balanced and complete.” Specht says
Experts advise that nations need to slow down, stop innovating and examine social biases in the society and not within the technology.