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The UK public doesn't trust algorithms

(Image credit: Image Credit: B-lay)

British citizens don’t think algorithms are a good way for businesses to make decisions on them, a new survey argues. 

Polling 2076 adults for the report, BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, found more than half (53 percent) of UK adults don’t trust business algorithms, regardless of if it’s about welfare, education or anything else.

The percentage of people trusting algorithms for various things that concerns them is alarmingly low. Just seven percent trusted them in the education sector, and eight percent in social media.  The highest trust in algorithms was shown in NHS – 17 percent, followed by financial services (16 percent) and intelligence agencies (12 percent). Police and technology companies were level with 11 percent trust.

The younger audience trusts algorithms more than older people, it added.

For Dr Bill Mitchell, Director of Policy at BCS, it’s about “balancing people’s expectations of instant decisions” on things like credit for a sofa, “with fairness and accounting for the individual”, when it comes to life-changing moments.

“That’s why we need a professionalized data science industry, independent impact assessments wherever algorithms are used in making high-stakes judgements about people’s lives, and a better understanding of AI and algorithms by the policymakers who give them sign-off.”

Algorithms are a part of everyone’s lives, probably to more extent than they know, Dr Mitchell argues.

“People get that Netflix and the like use algorithms to offer up film choices, but they might not realize that more and more algorithms decide whether we’ll be offered a job interview, or by our employers to decide whether we’re working hard enough, or even whether we might be a suspicious person needing to be monitored by security services.”