A police algorithm trained on the historical data of a racist police team may reflect these biases in the behavior of other teams that use the software. In addition, algorithms may hide individual responsibility and make it more difficult to challenge biased decisions.
Nevertheless, algorithmic biases deserve special attention from legislators, and in particular from the European Commission, which is currently drafting itsDigital Services Act.
Fighting algorithmic biases is difficult
These biases pose a number of difficulties. Equitable treatment can take the form of equity between individuals (everyone is treated the same way) or between groups (each group, man/woman, Catholic/Muslim, etc., is treated, on average, the same way). The two approaches are not always compatible, and it is likely that conceptions of equity vary around the globe, for example between Europe and the United States.
Moreover, modifying an algorithm to make it fully fair necessarily involves reducing its technical performance. While this may be acceptable in the vast majority of cases, performance degradation for sensitive algorithms can be difficult to accept, for example, in the medical field. Should we prioritize the fairness of an X-ray cancer detection algorithm to the detriment of its performance for certain types of patients?
Finally, strictly regulating firms to ensure that there is no bias can lead to strengthening the dominant position of GAFA, who have the resources at their disposal to comply with any regulation. Europe's digital ecosystem is still struggling, and the innovative capacity of companies and start-ups must be preserved.
Still, aiming for the disappearance of algorithm biases is more essential than ever if we want to maintain user confidence in digital platforms and services.
What is the current legal framework?
The year 2020 may be the year when tech really becomes a regulated industry, like so many others before it, from banking to telecommunications. In fact, the movement started several years ago, and digital intermediaries must already follow a number of regulations.
In Europe, they comply with a number of laws that apply to the physical world as much as to the digital one: protection of consumers, fiscality, disinformation and hateful speech… In addition, some specific texts have tightened their scope of activity in several areas such as the protection of personal data with the GDPR, or competition in e-commerce with the e-Commerce directive.