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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Artificial intelligence algorithms can indeed create a world that distributes resources more efficiently and, in theory, can offer more for everyone.

Yes, but: If we aren't careful, these same algorithms could actually lead to greater discrimination by codifying the biases that exist both overtly and unconsciously in human society. What's more, the power to make these decisions lies in the hands of Silicon Valley, which has a decidedly mixed record on spotting and addressing diversity issues in its midst.

Airbnb's Mike Curtis put it well when I interviewed him this week at VentureBeat's MobileBeat conference:

"One of the best ways to combat bias is to be aware of it. When you are aware of the biases then you can be proactive about getting in front of them. Well, computers don't have that advantage. They can't be aware of the biases that may have come into them from the data patterns they have seen."

Dig deeper: It also matters what the algorithms are optimizing for. Airbnb, in general, is looking to train its algorithms to learn what factors are most likely to lead to a positive experience for guests when they make their reservation. However, a customer with a racial bias, for example, may be more satisfied when they see only white hosts. But to further Airbnb's goal of an open, non-discriminatory platform, the company has to both recognize this issue, choose to prioritize non-discrimination, and then program accordingly.

Concern is growing:

  • The ACLU has raised concerns that age, sex, and race biases are already being codified into the algorithms that power AI.
  • ProPublica found that a computer program used in various regions to decide whom to grant parole would go easy on white offenders while being unduly harsh to black ones.
  • It's an issue that Weapons of Math Destruction author Cathy O'Neil raised in a popular talk at the TED conference this year. "Algorithms don't make things fair," she said. "They automate the status quo."

Go deeper

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
59 seconds ago - Health

Overturning Roe could strain abortion access even in blue states

The Supreme Court is reflected in a woman's sunglasses during a march Oct. 2. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abortions could be harder to access even in states where they remain legal, because those clinics could be flooded with patients from states that have cracked down.

The big picture: This has happened before, and clinics fear the crush of demand would be a major problem in the immediate wake of a decision that would allow states to ban abortion.

A critical race theory founder says he's being inundated with threats

Richard Delgado. Photo: Courtesy of Richard Delgado

Richard Delgado, one of the founders of the critical race theory movement, tells Axios he and his wife have been receiving a steady stream of threatening messages since the coordinated, conservative campaign against critical race theory began.

Why it matters: Educators across the country — even some elementary school teachers — have faced harassment and threats over the past year over lesson plans that teach about system racism in the U.S.

Burnout, money, concern drive Harris turnover

Vice President Kamala Harris and another potential 2024 presidential candidate, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, appeared together Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

Burnout, better opportunities and concern about being permanently branded a "Harris person" is driving some of the turnover in Vice President Kamala Harris's office, people familiar with the situation tell Axios.

Why it matters: Harris is not only a heartbeat from the presidency but, by virtue of her office, the presumed 2024 frontrunner if President Biden doesn't seek re-election. There's been an inordinate amount of disarray — and, now, turnover — throughout her tenure.