Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant For Code


Lulu Hoeller | Flickr

Who will watch the algorithms? Companies today often hand decisions off to code, because code can move faster, incorporate more data, and scale better than humans. That’s great, and algorithms are frequently where innovative new players find their edge. They’re the secret sauce — and they’re typically kept secret, because the more they’re documented, the more easy it is for them to be gamed. But secret algorithms are also an open invitation to discrimination and inequity (Pacific Standard). The more we use them in fields like banking, criminal justice, or hiring and human resources, the more important it becomes to hold them accountable — to open them up so individual users can understand why they were refused that loan or job. Ever combed through the errors in your own credit report? Then you know how meaningful such auditing of algorithms and their data can be.

Apps alone don’t make cities smart. The race to wire up cities with real-time data feedback loops promises to make urban life more efficient and manageable on many levels, from transport to utilities to human services. But we should be careful not to turn this application of Internet-of-things tech into a fetish or an ideology (Boston Globe). Boston’s alliance with Waze has helped residents cope with their region’s choked roads. And it’s little wonder that cash-strapped cities might be exploring ditching municipal bus systems for Lyft and Uber (Bloomberg). But a city’s stakeholders can’t delegate tough political choices to an app. If they do, they risk roping off information that should be publicly shared, driving up the price of housing, and promoting inequality.

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