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Living in a World of Algorithms Held Accountable By Regulation


Continuing on the theme of AI ethics from my previous blog, Could an AI ethics audit end up like GDPR?, we have in the UK, proposals for an Accountability for Algorithms Act

There are a number of motivations for algorithms to be held responsible by regulation.

For example, we have concerns in the UK about Algorithmic tracking is ‘damaging mental health’ of UK workers according to a group of MPs and peers from the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on the future of work.

As per a quote from the APPG members in their report, the New Frontier: Artificial Intelligence at Work.

“Pervasive monitoring and target-setting technologies, in particular, are associated with pronounced negative impacts on mental and physical wellbeing as workers experience the extreme pressure of constant, real-time micro-management and automated assessment,”

The proposed objectives of this regulation are:

  • To ensure that companies evaluate the effect of performance-driven regimes performance criteria such as deliveries-per-hour for delivery drivers
  • To ensure AI puts people first”.
  • Monitor algorithmic surveillance, management, and monitoring technologies
  • Ensure that workers would be given the right to be involved in the design and use of algorithm-driven systems
  • employers fill out algorithmic impact assessments,

From a historical perspective, algorithmic monitoring of workers is similar to F W Taylor’s theories designed to ensure worker productivity

The four principles of Taylor’s theories are

  1. The method of doing a task should be informed by a scientific investigation of the task
  2. Employees should be selected and carefully trained for tasks
  3. Tasks should have detailed instructions and should be subject to supervision
  4. Management should evaluate tasks and formulate optimized approaches for the workers to follow

And F W Taylor was not a fan of empowerment of workers. In fact, the processes of Taylorism were designed to make the worker as ‘dumb’ as possible as per the quote

“Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type”. (page. 58; The Principles of Scientific Management)

So, there is indeed some historical justification for concern when we compare algorithmic monitoring to Taylor’s theories

However, history also paints an optimistic picture when we consider how Taylor’s ideas were actually adopted by the industry.

For instance, the Toyota production system is based on empowering the worker although it adopted many ideas from Taylor

To conclude, we could soon be living in a world of algorithms held accountable by regulation – but it will be a complex picture.

Image source pixabay

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