In a recent article in The New Yorker, Julia Powles, postdoctoral researcher in technology law and policy at Cornell Tech, writes about legislation passed in December by the New York City Council establishing a task force to examine the city’s “automated decision systems.”
The end of a politician’s time in office often inspires a turn toward the existential, but few causes are as quixotic as the one chosen by James Vacca, who this month hits his three-term limit as a New York City Council member, representing the East Bronx. Vacca’s nearly four decades in local government could well be defined by a bill that he introduced in August, and that passed last Monday by a unanimous vote. Once signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the legislation will establish a task force to examine the city’s “automated decision systems”—the computerized algorithms that guide the allocation of everything from police officers and firehouses to public housing and food stamps—with an eye toward making them fairer and more open to scrutiny.
In mid-October, I and some of my colleagues from a group at Cornell Tech that works on algorithmic accountability attended a hearing of the Council’s technology committee to offer testimony on the bill. As Vacca, who chairs the committee, declared at the time, “If we’re going to be governed by machines and algorithms and data, well, they better be transparent.” Many of his constituents, he said, felt that “some inhuman computer is spitting them out and telling them where to go, and, if you don’t like it, lump it.”
Continue reading on The New Yorker website.
Read Nissenbaum, Powles, and Ristenpart’s full testimony from the New York City Council’s Technology Committee meeting.