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There’s nothing humane about algorithms being used to make life judgements and the A’ Level grade fiasco should be a lesson to us all

August 17, 2020 1 comment

Regrettably, at the time of a National Crisis, it seems that the only thing original about the Johnson Government is its ability to repeatedly fuck things up.

I would like to be able to say that they have a legitimate excuse for doing everything that they have done since the Coronavirus Pandemic came into view. But they don’t. And whilst many still believe it right to support the Government because that’s what you should do, the real story and all the different truths that have ridden shotgun with the creation of this chaos will come to light, either when the public files are opened or this stupid political clique is replaced by someone who knows what politicians are actually supposed to do.

Of all the mistakes Johnson and his cronies have made so far, the one that illustrates the abject disconnect from all forms of decision-making-responsibility that is endemic within this political culture was that of using an algorithm to produce grades for our 18 year old, end-of-school students who inevitably see their A ‘Level grades as a pivot point where the success or failure of their entire lives is mapped out.

Without the intervention of school closures that were neither necessary and certainly weren’t thought through, the GCSE and A ‘Level exams process in the UK was already arbitrary in the extreme, overlooking the reality that many students are not academically inclined and of those who appear to be, some will never be masters of exam technique. But to then fully dehumanise the process and use an algorithm when another political choice meant that exams in the summer of 2020 could not be done is an injustice of an extraordinary kind.

Algorithms are great for working with number and sifting data of a numerical or quantitative kind. But they are next to useless when qualitative data or the real idiosyncrasies and circumstances of life are concerned and the only shortcut that this route was ever going to provide was one to treating all A ‘Level Students as if the history or chronology of the events, what they did and how they did it was identically the same – not to mention anything that is already discussed above.

Yes, the Universities application and offer process is annually constrained by numbers. But Coronavirus and the ridiculous steps that the Government has already taken meant that this was never going to be a normal year, and simply factors such as foreign student numbers no longer being as certain as ‘normal’ would have meant there are vacancies that our commercially focused Universities need to fill to make the sums add up – no matter the usual grades requirements involved.

There is no algorithm that can fairly explain or make account for the peculiarities of any individuals circumstances. It is both lazy and distinctly harmful to surrender human decision making to a machine when that machine can only ever account for the level of detail or date that it was programmed with.

Parents are naturally beside themselves right now and many have good reason to be. Young people who were about to break free of the perceptual barriers and ties of their background have been binned just because our politicians are not up to the job and incapable of thinking in a different way. But the real travesty beyond that which I hope as I write public pressure will force Johnson to fix, is the reality that algorithms are already playing a massive part in the formal electronic or -online’ relationships that we have everything from our use of social media, to how our job applications are managed giving recruiters an irresponsibly easy time to check that boxes are ticked and nothing else.

Algorithms and the people who use them to cut corners of make business processes ‘more efficient’ to cut costs are not only playing a massive part in the dehumanisation of relationships that has accompanied the internet age. They are also condemning people whose circumstances a computer code will inevitably overlook whilst denying the benefits of added value to businesses that before the created quasi sectors of HR and Recruitment evolved were always a major consideration of the employing managers – and still would be if they realised what a con and all-round injustice these algorithms and employing the services of the people who use them involve.

This corner cutting is pernicious and whilst the improvement in technology to in turn improve the user and end user experience is always something that we should aspire to, it should not necessarily mean that the advances are used to cut costs and jobs if that is what it can do. The quality of the relationship with people, the product and the all-round experience will always be compromised if it is indeed not lost and money or cost-saving should never be the basic law governing business when everything that we do in any business is ultimately always and universally about people and thereby the human relationship.

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