13.05.2021. | Autor: Gerardo Manzano

Gaps in the automation age

Creative solutions and approaches are needed to enable any person to seize new opportunities in the automation age, without them, groups at disadvantage may fall behind in the world of work.

In one of our previous post, when we talked about who the main drivers of automation are, we concluded human beings. In this post, we want to provide some food for thought about the how and its consequences, mainly gaps that can be created or perpetuated with automation.

One consequence of any automated system can be summarized by quoting Bill Gates: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

This is an old quote but is still valid and very present in today’s world. The idea in the quote does not apply only to operations, but as well to approaches, perspectives, and ways of working. In short, we impress our thinking into automation and with it, the biases we have. This topic might get lost or attract less attention than others aspects of automation, such as concrete technologies, methodologies for implementation, and so on. However, the topic should not be taken lightly as it has direct impacts on specific groups of people, groups at disadvantage.

As a concrete example, we have Australia’s Robodebt scheme, an automated debt recovery solution, implemented by the Australian government in 2016; which was in the middle of strong criticism due to a faulty automated mechanism that miscalculated debts of millions of people in the country. The affected, the poor and vulnerable, could not do anything about it until a class action lawsuit somehow alleviated and repaired some of the damage done. Robodebt is no longer in service.

Another example that is still in use is COMPAS, an automated solution being used in courts in the US to assess the risk of a person who has an open legal process and is facing a sentence. The tool has been criticized for allegedly being biased against African Americans.

There are other examples that are a direct consequence of automation and are not really embedded in it. Therefore, the “how” and the “who does” automation is very relevant. One has to be aware of such things to prevent unwanted scenarios to happen, say for example inequality women may face. This is certainly only a small part of a bigger discussion, but it is worth remembering that the role of women at the beginning of the computing era was very prominent, they were the pioneers of the entire industry. Nowadays their share is very small and not only that, women tend to land only the jobs that are considered “easy“.

In the 3 examples, without going into many details, the automated solution was only the result of a creation process. The creation process in automation is very relevant as it is as important as the final result. Methodologies on how to produce software are very well developed, but it could be that there is one element that we fail to notice and hence unwanted results show up at the end of the road. The first step to correct this, is to be aware of those things, acknowledge their existence and pro-actively working on improving them.

As an automation practitioner, it is necessary to contribute to a general understanding and awareness of these topics. Major companies do this as well, as part of their social corporate responsibility. Technology brings several benefits, but it affects as well, civil and human rights and is already playing a major role in economic equity and equality.

Want to learn more? We can recommend a few articles and books:

Written by Gerardo Manzano
JIT Software Developer

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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