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Automating Inequality – High-tech tools deployed in social services can create more inefficiencies and create more inequality

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a5c9877d-9cee-4c90-9648-cd6e1d022890As Americans look for greater government efficiencies, we increasingly turn to automated systems that use algorithms to determine who is eligible for access to housing, welfare benefits, intervention from child protective services, and more.

But what if automating only increases efficiencies in an already imperfect system—one that already can make life more, not less, difficult for those seeking access to food, shelter, and health care?

Virginia Eubanks, an associate professor of political science at SUNY–Albany, digs into exactly this question in her new book, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

In this interview published on The Slate, Eubanks says that ‘Technology doesn’t drive all change. Technology doesn’t just respond to this society. It also shifts the way we understand ourselves. But it’s not neutral, either. So it’s not like the boot heel of Darth Vader, but it’s not like the magic spaceship that will save us all. [We] have to design from our values and not be surprised at the “unintended” consequences when we don’t design with equity in mind.”


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