Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Businesses facing unprecedented demands during the coronavirus pandemic have boosted their use of artificial intelligence in some of society's most sensitive areas.

Why it matters: Algorithms and the data they rely on are prone to automating preexisting biases — and are more likely to do so when they're rushed into the field without careful testing and review.

Driving the news:

  • Twitter and Facebook have been relying far more on AI to moderate content. Many of the contractors who normally handle such tasks are not able to go into the office, and the companies don't want the work done remotely so they can keep close tabs on sensitive user data.
  • Walmart associates have voiced concern that the AI being used at self-checkout is flagging appropriate behavior as potential wrongdoing and missing actual theft.
  • A need for fast results in the earliest days of the pandemic pushed adoption of novel uses of AI in tracking the virus' spread and speeding its diagnosis. But health care data leaves out big parts of the population and has historically been rife with bias.

The big picture: Beyond these examples, experts worry that the economy's sudden halt has driven resource-strapped companies and institutions to increasingly rely on algorithms to make decisions in housing, credit, employment and other areas.

Key areas of accelerating AI adoption:

  • Employment: It's concerning enough that algorithms are used to screen applicants, but a new concern is how companies might use AI to also decide who gets cut when companies are reducing staff. Amazon came under fire for using an algorithm in the past to decide which warehouse workers should be terminated for low productivity.
  • Policing: As nationwide protests shine a spotlight on abuses in policing, AI algorithms for predictive policing are being increasingly deployed in the field, even though critics say they worsen and codify racial profiling and other problems.
  • Housing: AI-driven algorithms are playing a greater role in housing decision like landlords' choice of tenants and banks' approval of loans. As in many areas, AI holds potential to aid people of color and others who have historically faced discrimination on this front — but only if enough care is taken with both algorithms and training data.
  • COVID-19 itself: AI is playing a role in the response to the disease in everything from vaccine trials to the selection of populations for public outreach to decisions over who can be safely treated at home via telehealth services. AI can help speed care, but providers need to pay attention to which groups are likely to be underrepresented in the data used to train algorithms, along with other patterns of inequality embedded in existing systems of care.

Between the lines: If you are going to use AI in making meaningful decisions, experts recommend making sure a diverse group of people is involved in reviewing everything from the algorithm design to the training data to the way the system will be deployed and evaluated.

  • Experts also caution that using pre-COVID data to make decisions today could produce flawed results, given how much the world has changed.
  • "Some data is still relevant, other data isn’t," says McGill University professor Matissa Hollister.

Yes, but: Hollister notes that adding humans to the mix isn't a cure-all, either, given that humans have plenty of bias as well.

Meanwhile: A number of companies have hit the pause button on police use of AI-driven face recognition systems, including Amazon, Microsoft and IBM, which is getting out of the commercial face recognition business entirely.

What's next: Expect a wave of lawsuits from consumers contending that they were discriminated against by AI systems, especially in key areas such as hiring.

  • "The law is very clear you cannot discriminate in employment decisions," Vogel said.
  • While that principle hasn’t been widely applied to AI programs yet, Vogel said, that's largely because the technology is so new. "People can fully expect the lawyers are going to get up to speed," Vogel said.

Go deeper

Tech's election-season survival plan: transparency

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Leading U.S. tech platforms are going out of their way to reveal how their businesses, policies and algorithms work ahead of November in a bid to avoid blame for election-related trouble.

Why it matters: Until recently, tech companies found it useful to be opaque about their policies and technology — stopping bad actors from gaming their systems and competitors from copying their best features. But all that happened anyway, and now the firms' need to recapture trust is making transparency look like a better bet.

Sep 10, 2020 - Technology

Inside TikTok's killer algorithm

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok Wednesday revealed some of the elusive workings of the prized algorithm that keeps hundreds of millions of users worldwide hooked on the viral video app.

Why it matters: The code TikTok uses to pick your next video is a large part of what has led the two-year-old company to achieve broad popularity along with a remarkable $20-$30 billion valuation. The key asset is in play as TikTok's Chinese parent prepares to sell its U.S. operation amid fears about its relationship with China's government.

Ro Khanna wary of Biden approach on Middle East

Rep. Ro Khanna. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

An outspoken progressive Democrat is wary of President Biden’s approach to the Middle East, arguing it’s like “conceding defeat of the aspiration” to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Why it matters: A number of members of Biden’s own party dislike his Middle East strategy, as his administration signals the region is no longer the priority it was for President Obama and his predecessors.