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‘Deference to the algorithm’: AI still needs babysitting


‘Deference to the algorithm’: AI still needs babysitting

Police, universities and HR departments put too much faith in systems that make critical errors

Parmy Olson

Back in 2018, Pete Fussey, a sociology professor from the University of Essex, was studying how police in London used facial recognition systems to look for suspects on the street. Over the next two years, he accompanied Metropolitan Police officers in their vans as they surveilled different pockets of the city, using mounted cameras and facial-recognition software. 

Fussey made two important discoveries on those trips, which he laid out in a 2019 study. First, the facial-recognition system was woefully inaccurate. Across all 42 computer-generated matches that came through on the six deployments he went on, just eight, or 19%, turned out to be correct. 

Second, and more disturbing, was that most of the time, police officers assumed the facial-recognition system was probably correct. “I remember people saying: ‘If we’re not sure, we should just assume it’s a match,’” he says. Fussey called the phenomenon “deference to the algorithm”. ..

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