Are Hiring Algorithms the Silent Killer of Career Hopes and Dreams?

Featuring: Cathy O’Neil

Are Hiring Algorithms the Silent Killer of Career Hopes and Dreams?

In this episode Charles welcomes Cathy O’Neil- founder of ORCAA, a consultancy that helps companies and organizations manage and audit algorithmic risks.  Cathy is a mathematician and former investment banker whose goal is to help ensure algorithms are used responsibly and fairly, advocating for and addressing the concerns of those who are on the receiving end of the algorithm (vs. those who created it).  Cathy also works with regulators and lawmakers in the course of developing standards for algorithmic auditing, including translating existing fairness laws into rules for algorithm builders.

Besides having a genius title- Cathy’s book- Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy  provides an in-depth look at the potential damage that is caused by the irresponsible use of algorithms and is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the big picture when it comes to algorithms gone bad.

Charles and Cathy engage in a conversation about the dangers of the science hype factor in AI and the fact that irresponsibility begins with the blind faith that people generally put in the concept that algorithms are created by really smart people who can be trusted to ensure they work as intended and do not bring harm.  

Charles brings up the fact that the primary focus in the world of employment testing is evaluating the fairness of a specific test without consideration of the impact caused by all of the other decision points in the hiring process.  There is agreement that this viewpoint leaves a good deal of opportunity for fairness on the table.  

Cathy explains that her process goes beyond just looking at bias – and begins with the broader question of why the algorithm was created in the first place and how the creator defines its success.  

There is discussion of the pending case in which employers were sued by the father of a bipolar teen who was denied employment due to the use of a personality test.  The discussion centers on the appropriateness of personality tests for the workplace given the fact that they can be discriminatory for those with personality disorders that may not preclude the applicant from performing the job for which they are applying.

Finally- Charles and Cathy agree that when it comes to hiring- sourcing is one of the biggest causes of unfair practices.  Specifically- there is great concern around the manner in which automation determines whom to show specific job openings returned from a search or presented via paid advertisements.  These “optimization engines” are trained to be biased by their very nature and this bias can exclude minorities or members of protected classes from ever seeing jobs for which they may want to apply.  Regulation is badly needed in this area because it is currently a silent killer of hopes and dreams.

For those who wish to follow Cathy – here blog is, and her company’s website is:

Check out the exciting things going on at Rocket-Hire:

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