FTI Consulting Public Affairs Snapshot – Algorithm and BluesDownload a PDF of this article
When students across the UK took to the streets to protest the Government’s handling of their exam results, the besieged Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson was not the only target of their anger. The “mutant algorithm” – as the Prime Minister himself has called it – that was used to assign the final test scores has been the focus of much criticism. This has led many to ask why the class of 2020’s future was left to the apparent whims of computer code in the first place. We should not be surprised though. This question is part of a broader discussion that has been brewing for years.
Under normal circumstances you could perhaps be forgiven for closing this window as soon as you read the words, ‘algorithmic bias’. However, when young people are on the news chanting “f*** the algorithm!” outside the Department for Education, one has to stop and ask what all the fuss is about. Why is technology being blamed? Who is responsible? What even is an algorithm?
Questions like these may seem oversimplistic, but they are actually contentious and rather philosophical issues that have occupied the minds of technologists and policymakers alike for decades. In fact, our government has gone so far as to establish a world-first advisory body to examine them: the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) – the irony that its Chair, Roger Taylor, is also the head of the exam regulator, Ofqual, has not been lost.
In this snapshot we will go back to the basics of algorithms and how they apply to everyday life before exploring several of the policy options that lawmakers are going to have to grapple with for years to come.