- The New York Mayor's Office has a new position to oversee the city's use of tools that employ algorithms and related technologies in decision making. Mayor Bill de Blasio created the Algorithms Management and Policy Officer position via executive order.
- The officer will serve as a central resource to help city agencies with policies and best practices related to their use of algorithms. Another duty will be to provide resources for the public to learn more about the government's use of algorithms for decision making and service delivery. Equity, fairness and accountability will be at the forefront of the oversight and guidance.
- A new steering committee comprised of city employees and select members of the public will support the officer and offer advice.
The position was created following a review of recommendations in the recently released Automated Decision Systems Task Force Report. The task force spent 18 months holding meetings, public forums and gathering information for the report. The document examines how services and resources are provided to New Yorkers through the use of data, algorithms and machine learning or other artificial intelligence (AI). The report highlighted concerns with equity and implicit or explicit bias with data, algorithms and greater AI use.
Bias is among the key concerns with new data-driven technologies. A report released by New York University's AI Now Institute went so far as to say the artificial intelligence industry has a "diversity crisis" across gender and race that creates bias and could influence how AI systems are designed and implemented. A Georgia Tech study earlier this year suggests that bias during the development of certain technologies used in autonomous vehicles may have made them perform poorly when detecting people who have darker skin. AI bias also has been found to affect low-income citizens.
Bias and other similar digital outcomes represent an especially touchy area for digital government services. They hold the potential to negatively and disproportionately affect certain sectors of the population rather than improving citizens' lives, which generally is the stated intent of adding technology.
Ensuring equitable service delivery by eliminating bias in technology and data use is a core responsibility of New York's newly created Algorithms Management and Policy Officer position. Many cities have hired a Chief Data Officer, or a similar director, to coordinate their data efforts. But ADS Task Force members tout New York as being the first city to tackle the data and algorithm issue in such a way and suggest it could serve as a model for other cities.
"Governments increasingly rely on data-driven tools to make more effective and timely decisions, yet, these tools can also come with risk," Julie Samuels, an ADS Task Force member and the executive director of Tech:NYC, said in a statement. The creation of the new position "represents an important first step for New York City in promoting responsible innovation and fairness in government," she added.
The effort requires input from city employees as well as the public. It also involves transparency from the city and its agencies to educate the public with information about data-driven and algorithmic policies and practices. Involving and accepting feedback from a broad range of participants creates a version of checks and balances that could position the city for greater success with achieving its goals of beneficial, unbiased algorithmic tools to aid service delivery.