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Technological innovation has led to the prevalent use of algorithms in everyday decision making. So ubiquitous is the application of algorithms that many may not recognize its impact on their daily lives. From online shopping to applying for a home loan, algorithms are at play in categorizing and filtering individuals to serve the goal of providing more accurate and efficient results than human decisionmaking would. At the basic level, algorithms are nothing more than a series of step-by-step instructions compiled by a computer, which then analyzes swaths of data based on those instructions. However, when algorithms use incorrect variables to filter results—such as certain stereotypes about minorities—or, more imperceptibly, learn bad habits from how humans behave online, our absolute reliance on their results can cause disparate harm to minority communities.
The pervasive use of algorithms by both corporate and government organizations for the purposes of efficiency and pattern analysis in the collection of Big Data has brought questions to light as to (1) whether these algorithms are fair across the board and (2) whether they contribute to disparate outcomes resulting in discriminatory practices. The inquiry then ultimately turns to the legal methods to regulate algorithms in order to combat their negative influence while still maintaining all the technological success and convenience society enjoys.
Submitted to the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State.
University of Washington Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic
Civil Rights and Discrimination | Computer Law | Science and Technology Law
Vicky Wei & Teresa Stephenson,
Algorithmic Discrimination White Paper,
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/techclinic/15