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

Updated 18 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. ET: 34,124,948 — Total deaths: 1,016,723 — Total recoveries: 23,703,113Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. ET: 7,273,244 — Total deaths: 207,605 — Total recoveries: 2,840,747 — Total tests: 103,946,170Map.
  3. Politics: House prepares to pass revised COVID relief bill as White House talks hit roadblock — Biden to expand voter outreach with in-person canvassing amid pandemic.
  4. Health: Health officials urge flu shots, warning of "twindemic" with COVID-19 — Coronavirus infections rise in 25 states.
  5. Business: Remdesivir is good business for Gilead — Amazon says over 19,800 employees contracted coronavirus — Doomsday has arrived for tens of thousands of workers.

Doomsday has arrived for tens of thousands of workers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Federal coronavirus aid for airlines expires on Thursday with no renewal in sight, meaning massive layoffs for the industry aren't far behind.

The big picture: Airline workers aren't alone on the unemployment line. Oil companies, tire manufacturers, book publishers and insurers are among those that have announced tens of thousands of layoffs. Federal aid through the CARES Act earlier this year delayed most layoffs — until now.

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How the brain handles the unknown

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uncertainty can be hard for humans. It drives anxiety, an emotion neuroscientists are trying to understand and psychologists are trying to better treat.

Why it matters: Under the threat of a virus, job insecurity, election uncertainty, and a general pandemic life-in-limbo that is upending school, holidays and more, people are especially anxious.