Discriminate, discriminate, discriminate!

22nd October 2018 Employment

The tech industry is constantly putting the fear into us that robots are going to take over our jobs and automation is the way forward. Not for Amazon!

Amazon set up an engineering team in Edinburgh in 2014 tasked with finding a way to automate its recruitment process: something to sort through piles of applications and CV’s in an instant, free of human error and unconscious or conscious - bias. Surely nothing could go wrong? Wrong!

A year later, the engineers noticed something quite troubling about the AI: it discriminated against women. The AI favoured applicants that used “male„ verbs such as “executed„ and “captured„, but excluded applicants that attended all-female schools and whose hobbies indicated they were female, for example, “captain of the female football team„. Members of the team said that the systems had effectively taught itself that male candidates were preferable.

The problem seemed to arise from the fact that the system was trained on data submitted by applicants over a 10 year period, most of which were male, further highlighting the gender gap in the tech industry.

Amazon tried to fix the problem but then gave up and they are now using it only to de-duplicate and perform similar judgment free tasks. Amazon have made it clear that they did not rely solely on the AI when recruiting applicants, so it isn’t clear as to whether the issues with AI resulted in any potential or actual discrimination claims by female applicants. Under the Equality Act it is unlawful to reject a candidate because of their gender.

This raises concerns as to how trustworthy and consistent algorithms trained on information will be. As the tech industry creates artificial intelligence, there is a risk that it adopts prejudice into that code that could cause a raft of problems for employers if the information is not also checked by a human or huwoman.

Employers dream of harnessing technology to reduce recruitment time costs, but it seems there’s still a long way to go. Human hiring managers your jobs appear safe, for now.

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Charlotte Beeley is a Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Employment department

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