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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

An employment and labor law expert specializing in the ethical governance of workplace technologies warned in a New York Times opinion piece that employers using automated hiring platforms powered by artificial intelligence (AI) in the belief that they are less biased and discriminatory than humans are “misguided.”

Dr. Ifeoma Ajunwa – Assistant Professor of Labor and Employment Law at Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School (ILR) and Associated Faculty Member at Cornell Law School – described the problem with using automated hiring and AI to avoid bias in her paper ‘The Paradox of Automation as Anti-Bias Intervention.’

A received wisdom is that automated decision-making serves as an anti-bias intervention. The conceit is that removing humans from the decision-making process will also eliminate human bias. The paradox, however, is that in some instances, automated decision-making has served to replicate and amplify bias.

In her New York Time opinion piece, Dr. Ajunwa explains how automated hiring can create a closed loop system that “operates with no transparency or accountability built in to check that the criteria are fair to all job applicants” by using algorithms and automation to decide whether job applicants are qualified for a position.

Advertisements created by algorithms encourage certain people to send in their résumés. After the résumés have undergone automated culling, a lucky few are hired and then subjected to automated evaluation, the results of which are looped back to establish criteria for future job advertisements and selections.

Dr. Ajunwa describes how automated hiring has “enabled discrimination against job applicants” such as when Facebook settled a class action lawsuit in March of 2019 that claimed Facebook Business tools “enable and encourage discrimination by excluding African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans” from opportunities.

To fight bias in automated hiring, Dr. Ajunwa suggests passing “laws that let plaintiffs bring suits when they have experienced bias in an automated hiring system,” a “law that would mandate data retention for all applications” on platforms, and help from worker unions “to ensure that automated hiring platforms are fair.”

Lawmakers are trying to catch up with AI and bias. In August of 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the “Artificial Intelligence Video Interview Act” which will provide rights to jobseekers undergoing an application process that involves AI analysis or video interviewing. The law takes effect on January 1, 2020.

The need for the “human touch” when using artificial intelligence due to discrimination concerns when conducting background checks on job applicants was named by global background check firm Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) as one of the “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends” for 2019.

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