Implicit bias, Starbucks and AI

Some of the more interesting articles on these issues over the past few weeks:

Take the horribly complex and difficult task of hiring new employees, make it less transparent, more confusing and remove all accountability. Sound good to you? Of course it does not, but that’s the path many employers are taking by adopting artificial intelligence in the hiring process.

Companies across the nation are now using some rudimentary artificial intelligence, or AI, systems to screen out applicants before interviews commence and for the interviews themselves. As a Guardian article from March explained, many of these companies are having people interview in front of a camera that is connected to AI that analyzes their facial expressions, their voice and more. One of the top recruiting companies doing this, Hirevue, has large customers like Hilton and Unilever. Their AI scores people using thousands of data points and compares it to the scores of the best current employees.

But that can be unintentionally problematic. As Recode pointed out, because most programmers are white men, these AI are actually often trained using white male faces and male voices. That can lead to misperceptions of black faces or female voices, which can lead to the AI making negative judgments about those people. The results could trend sexist or racist, but the employer who is using this AI would be able to shift the blame to a supposedly neutral technology.

Other companies have people do their first interview with an AI chatbot. One popular AI that does this is called Mya, which promises a 70 percent decrease in hiring time. Any number of questions these chatbots could ask could be proxies for race, gender or other factors.

An algorithm that judges resumes or powers a chatbot might factor in how far away someone lives from the office, which may have to do with historically racist housing laws. In that case, the black applicant who lives in the predominantly black neighborhood far away from the office gets rejected. Xerox actually encountered that exact problem years ago.

“You can fire a racist HR person, you might not ever find out your AI has been producing racist or sexist results.”

“If you use data that reflects existing and historical bias, and you ask a mathematical tool to make predictions based on that data, the predictions will reflect that bias,” Rachel Goodman, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, told The Daily Beast. It’s nearly impossible to make an algorithm that won’t produce some kind of bias, because almost every data point that can be connected to another factor like someone’s race or gender. We’ve seen this happening when algorithms are used to determine prison sentences and parole in our justice system.

Source: Your Next Job Interview Could Be with a Racist Bot

Starbucks implicit bias training:

On whether people can learn about their implicit bias and retrain their brains to see others differently, McGill Johnson says it’s possible, but not when it’s done over a short period of time.

“It’s taken centuries for our brains to create these negative schemas about particular groups of people that have been marginalized in society,” she says. “And so it will take a really concerted, intentional effort to develop the counter-stereotypes that are required to move them out of our brains and replace them with others.”

At the workshops she runs, McGill Johnson says she starts with the idea that most people believe that they are fundamentally fair and believe in the egalitarian of all races and genders.

It’s when behaviors such as those that led to the arrest of the two men in Philadelphia arise that people can’t account for the disparity in outcomes between what they say they believe and how they react.

McGill Johnson says that raises the question that maybe the way people practice fairness is flawed.

“We’ve been taught to be colorblind. We’ve been taught that we can be objective when it comes to evaluating people, and the science suggests that sometimes our values aren’t sufficient for us to actually practice those pieces because our brains see race very quickly,” she says.

And what contributes to how brains process race and other identifiers is based on just about every other experience a person has had, watched or read.

“We develop, derive bias from just seeing certain pairings of words together over time. And those bits of information help us navigate our unconscious processes,” she says.

This means that in order to address people’s implicit bias, a lot of fundamental processes in the brain have to be changed.

While Starbucks is addressing a flaw in the company’s previous training, McGill Johnson says it will take more than one afternoon to completely address implicit bias.

“I think at best it will spark curiosity and an awareness that biases do not make us bad people — they actually make us human — but that we do have a capacity to override them,” she says. “And it’s really important for us to build in systems and practices that help us do that.”

Source: A Lesson In How To Overcome Implicit Bias 

Let me be clear. I believe that most Americans today really don’t consciously subscribe to racism or most other overtly bigoted beliefs. Even still, African Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites and receive harsher sentences for the same crimes. Women earn less than what men earn for the same work. LGBT youth are disproportionately more likely to be homeless. Unemployment rates for black and Latino Americans are almost double those for whites. If we’re no longer, by and large, overtly bigoted, how do these blatant injustices persist?

A large body of research assigns some of the blame to our unconscious biases—or, as the academic community calls them, “implicit biases”—the attitudes and misperceptions that are baked into our minds due to systemic racism and pervasive stereotyping across society. As products of a sexist society, we all have a bias in favor of men and masculinity and against women and femininity. As products of a racist society, we all have a bias for white people and against people of color. As products of a classist society, we all have a bias for rich people and against poor people. And so on. We don’t consciously hold these beliefs; they’re like deep-down reflexes we’ve habituated to over time. They’re encoded in our brains and, in turn, they play out in ways that then reinforce society-wide bias.

Source: ‘Implicit Bias’ Is Very Real and It Infects Every One of Us: Sally Kohn 

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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