An algorithm intended to reduce poverty in Jordan disqualifies people in need

Article by Tate Ryan-Mosley: “An algorithm funded by the World Bank to determine which families should get financial assistance in Jordan likely excludes people who should qualify, according to an investigation published this morning by Human Rights Watch. 

The algorithmic system, called Takaful, ranks families applying for aid from least poor to poorest using a secret calculus that assigns weights to 57 socioeconomic indicators. Applicants say that the calculus is not reflective of reality, however, and oversimplifies people’s economic situation, sometimes inaccurately or unfairly. Takaful has cost over $1 billion, and the World Bank is funding similar projects in eight other countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

Human Rights Watch identified several fundamental problems with the algorithmic system that resulted in bias and inaccuracies. Applicants are asked how much water and electricity they consume, for example, as two of the indicators that feed into the ranking system. The report’s authors conclude that these are not necessarily reliable indicators of poverty. Some families interviewed believed the fact that they owned a car affected their ranking, even if the car was old and necessary for transportation to work. 

The report reads, “This veneer of statistical objectivity masks a more complicated reality: the economic pressures that people endure and the ways they struggle to get by are frequently invisible to the algorithm.”..(More)”.