The Editorial Board at the Financial Times: “The soundtrack of school students marching through Britain’s streets shouting “f*** the algorithm” captured the sense of outrage surrounding the botched awarding of A-level exam grades this year. But the students’ anger towards a disembodied computer algorithm is misplaced. This was a human failure. The algorithm used to “moderate” teacher-assessed grades had no agency and delivered exactly what it was designed to do.
It is politicians and educational officials who are responsible for the government’s latest fiasco and should be the target of students’ criticism….
Sensibly designed, computer algorithms could have been used to moderate teacher assessments in a constructive way. Using past school performance data, they could have highlighted anomalies in the distribution of predicted grades between and within schools. That could have led to a dialogue between Ofqual, the exam regulator, and anomalous schools to come up with more realistic assessments….
There are broader lessons to be drawn from the government’s algo fiasco about the dangers of automated decision-making systems. The inappropriate use of such systems to assess immigration status, policing policies and prison sentencing decisions is a live danger. In the private sector, incomplete and partial data sets can also significantly disadvantage under-represented groups when it comes to hiring decisions and performance measures.
Given the severe erosion of public trust in the government’s use of technology, it might now be advisable to subject all automated decision-making systems to critical scrutiny by independent experts. The Royal Statistical Society and The Alan Turing Institute certainly have the expertise to give a Kitemark of approval or flag concerns.
As ever, technology in itself is neither good nor bad. But it is certainly not neutral. The more we deploy automated decision-making systems, the smarter we must become in considering how best to use them and in scrutinising their outcomes. We often talk about a deficit of trust in our societies. But we should also be aware of the dangers of over-trusting technology. That may be a good essay subject for next year’s philosophy A-level….(More)”.