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Editor's Web: ACLU accuses computers of discrimination
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Editor's Web: ACLU accuses computers of discrimination

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By this point in the 21st century I had hoped there would be robots to do all of the work for us humans. Mine would be an android named “Frank” who would speedily edit news articles while simultaneously serving me martinis.

Robots are indeed taking over the planet, but not in the way we were shown in old science fiction movies.

“Most employees will have an AI counterpart with which they collaborate or through which their work is amplified,” Sarwant Singh writes in a November 2017 Forbes article. “Some futurists predict that by 2026 companies will have an AI machine as a member of their board of directors.”

Having a robot boss or coworker is not what I imagined as a child growing up in the Space Age. I was hoping my android could handle all unpleasant tasks, leaving me the freedom to play and pretend. Instead, artificial intelligence is worming its way into all aspects of our lives in the form of algorithms designed to manipulate or even take advantage of us.

I try not to think about it, but a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union reminded me that bleak times are ahead. Titled “How artificial intelligence can make employment discrimination worse,” it tells the story of a 58-year-old “social media strategist” who did not receive a Facebook pop-up ad for a job opening in his field because a computer program decided he wasn’t in the right age group.

“Social media platforms have argued that they are immune to liability from such discrimination claims under the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from actions taken by third parties on their sites,” wrote Ifeoma Ajunwa, an assistant professor at Cornell. “Recent allegations, however, point to Facebook using its own platform to disseminate age-restricted employment ads in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.”

Another black eye for Mark Zuckerberg, the man solely responsible for putting Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

“Platform authoritarianism,” writes Ajunwa, “also raises concerns beyond the hiring process. For example, scheduling platforms such as Kronos, which allows for ‘on-demand scheduling,’ are becoming ubiquitous, giving rise to employment situations where the employee may be at the mercy of erratic, automated scheduling with no guaranteed work hours.”

That does not sound like a helpful robot to me.

Kronos reminds me of Klaatu, the alien from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951 version) who wanted humans to chill because they were threatening our planet with nuclear destruction.

One World anti-nationalism was a major theme of science fiction movies in the 1950s. If the nuclear beast that was unleashed in the 1940s did not kill us all, it would at least mutate spiders and shrews into giant man-killers that would make life on Earth very unpleasant. The only rational response for us humans is to forget our petty differences and band together to save the day.

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Was Klaatu a communist, as some film reviewers of the time thought? No, he was just practicing “platform authoritarianism” decades before its time.

In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, technology “offered tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior,” wrote The New York Times. The company used a personality survey to glean personal data and determine the individual “likes” of people who were insecure enough to click on their app.

That process of advanced cyber-manipulation was developed at Cambridge University’s Psychometric Center and used by one of their professors to collect data on millions of Facebook users, who were also naïve if they thought their information would remain private.

But the concept has been around for decades. The late 1990s brought us Web Bot, a program whose developers claim is able to predict future events by tracking keywords entered on the internet. Today, more than half of the traffic on the internet is driven by bots that fetch, analyze and file information at the speed of light. All it takes is one evil psychometrist to harness and use the data to his or her own purposes, and the balance of world power is disrupted.

With all of that on the line, should I be worried about something as trivial as a computer taking over my job?

Bots are already doing the job of some journalists, and have been for years.

“AP’s ‘robot journalists’ are writing their own stories now,” reported The Verge in January 2015 – six months after the news organization automated its articles covering financial earnings reports. It’s good to have machines handling such deathly boring gobbledygook that only gets read by that little mustachioed guy from the Monopoly board.

I don’t mind a helping hand from artificial intelligence, but futurists predict that machines will soon be invading unimagined fields of endeavor. Several big-name publications came out with articles near the end of 2017 that foretold doom for workers of the future.

“You will lose your job to a robot — and sooner than you think,” warned Mother Jones. “Robots: Is your job at risk?” asked CNN Money. Or, the more hopeful “Will robots take our children’s jobs?”

Mother Jones says the job losses will affect not only pencil-pushers but “artistic types” and people who think they have social skills that no robot can match — like the unemployed social media strategist.

A Google search for “robots taking over jobs” turned up 21,100,000 results.

Yes, the artificial writing is on the wall. Androids are taking over, and that’s something everyone but ACLU lawyers should worry about.

Jeffry Mullins is editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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