Of the idiocy of turning algorithms into law

Lambert is writing at Naked Capitalism about Algorithmic Regulation, “Code is Law,” and the Case of Ferguson. It’s a good deconstruction and should definitely be read but I had my facepalm-moment at the start of the piece when he quotes Tim O’Reilly:

Laws should specify goals, rights, outcomes, authorities, and limits. If specified broadly, those laws can stand the test of time.

Regulations, which specify how to execute those laws in much more detail, should be regarded in much the same way that programmers regard their code and algorithms, that is, as a constantly updated toolset to achieve the outcomes specified in the laws….

Increasingly, our interactions with businesses, government, and the built environment are becoming digital, and thus amenable to creative forms of measurement [one hopes not “creative” in the way creative accounting is creative], and ultimately algorithmic regulation….

There are many good examples of data collection, measurement, analysis, and decision-making taking hold in government. In New York City, data mining was used to identify correlations between illegal apartment conversions and increased risk of fires, leading to a unique cooperation between building and fire inspectors.

It’s important to understand that these manual interventions are only an essential first step. Once you understand that you have actionable data being systematically collected, and that your interventions based on that data are effective, it’s time to begin automating those interventions.

[A] successful algorithmic regulation system has the following characteristics:

  1. A deep understanding[2] of the desired outcome
  2. Real-time measurement to determine if that outcome is being achieved
  3. Algorithms (i.e. a set of rules) that make adjustments based on new data
  4. Periodic, deeper analysis of whether the algorithms themselves are correct and performing as expected.

This is absolutely mind-boggling! Any data mining researcher who has ever given this some thought agrees that such algorithms are only the tools and that the ways they can be employed (or are forbidden from being employed) have to be laid down in a political process.

And here is someone from outside who believes it should be the other way around…

This entry was posted in belief systems, machine learning and data mining, techno utopianism. Bookmark the permalink.

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