Tech Talk - algorithms that rule Australia

The Australian government is increasingly using algorithms to develop and implement policy initiatives. This has potentially large implications in how we make policy that is fair to all Australians. Of particular concern are the systemic biases and limitations in algorithms that often discriminate against minorities and vulnerable groups. Special guest experts Ed Santow, former Human Rights Commissioner and Marie Johnson, CEO of Centre for Digital Business help us explore this topic.

Key points:

  • Amazon's brutal labour practices and algorithmic performance management may finally be addressed as California looks to legislate against Amazon's ability to fire workers for taking bathrooms breaks and speaking out against the heavy-handed warehouse conditions they are subjected to.
  • Centre for Responsible Technology called out social media influencers for being unqualified and having almost no oversight which allows for dangerous misinformation to be spread with no recourse.
  • The Wall Street Journal unveiled a trove of internal Facebook documents revealing a series of coverups and mismanagement around several issues, including an algorithm update in 2018 that made Facebook a more troublesome place, rewarding outrage and anger.
  • Akin to the military-industrial complex and the medical-industrial complex, the amplification of the power differential between the public and the State in technology, particularly with digital technology and algorithmic development is giving way to an 'algorithm industrial complex', according to Marie Johnson.
  • Algorithms must demonstrate that their systems are fair, accurate and accountable before being used for widespread public policy initiatives.
  • Algorithms can also serve to highlight existing cultural and systemic biases from the 'real' world, and may give the opportunity to address or correct those biases.
  • Existing laws must be enforced for new algorithmic systems, and technological solutions shouldn't be overlooked.
  • The skills gap in regulating and developing proper frameworks for large scale algorithmic development in public policy is being tackled by a new unit at the University of Technology Sydney.