Why self-regulation is better than legislative regulation

Comment

Image Credits: Martin Barraud (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Yale Fox

Contributor

Yale Fox is founder and CEO at Rentlogic.

We are moving toward a society controlled by algorithms, but very few of us actually understand how they work. This asymmetry of information is a recipe for disaster. Case in point: Recently in the U.K., an algorithmic failure put the lives of 450,000 woman at risk through a technical error that inhibited their ability to detect breast cancer.

Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly, and if the tech industry doesn’t take the lead on imposing oversights to our algorithms, the government may create its own regulations — causing roadblocks to innovation.

We have seen time and time again the mistake of placing our blind trust in algorithms. Even our best intentions can go awry when we’re working with something we don’t always understand, which has the ability to scale globally almost instantly.

This isn’t a new concept. For example, since the early 1900s, “scientifically proven” was the trend in innovation, which bled into marketing — only a few people with highly specialized knowledge, in this case scientists, had the esoteric research along with understanding of DNA and biological sciences. Most people blindly believed this research, and it was exploited to sell products. By the early 1990s, “data driven” beat out “scientifically proven” and became the de rigueur buzz phrase — anything data driven (or data-related) must be correct because the data said so, and therefore one should trust us and buy referenced products.

Now that has been superseded by terms like “AI” and “machine learning” — still part of this knowledge only understood by a few that is being used to sell products.

For years, these terms and approaches have been guiding myriad choices in our lives, yet the vast majority of us have just had to accept these decisions at face value because we don’t understand the science behind them.

In an age in which many aspects of technology could still be considered the “Wild West,” and tech gurus “outlaws,” I contend, as a whole, that this is a problem we should get in front of rather than behind. It is imperative that companies should voluntarily prescribe to Algorithmic Audits — an unbiased third-party verification. Much like a B-Corp certification for companies, these external audits would show that one’s company is doing the right thing and course-correct any biases.

If we don’t take a firm lead on this type of verification process, the government may eventually step in and impose overly cumbersome regulations. The oversight required to do so would be nearly impossible and would eventually impede progress on any number of initiatives.

Technology adapts faster than even the technology industry can handle, and so adding a layer of governmental bureaucracy would further throttle innovation. Data science is like every other science, requiring experimentation and beta testing to arrive at more effective technologies; regulation would stifle this process.

We’ve seen similar occurrences before; for example, before insurance companies can work their data into their actuarial models they need to be certified by the State. There is a growing movement in cities and at companies to address bias in algorithms. Recently, New York City assembled an algorithm task force to look at whether its automated decision system is racially biased. According to a State Scoop article, “The City uses algorithms for numerous functions, including predicting where crimes will occur, scheduling building inspections, and placing students in public schools. But algorithmic decision-making has been deeply scrutinized in recent years as it’s become more commonplace in local government, especially with respect to policing.”

The tech industry funding a research council, with the goal of creating best practices to elevate the quality of algorithms, is far better than the alternative. According to Fast Company, algorithms now even have their own certification, “a seal of approval that designates them as accurate, unbiased, and fair.” The seal was developed by Cathy O’Neil, a statistician and author who launched her own company to ensure algorithms aren’t unintentionally harming people.

In the effort to practice what I preach, we did exactly this at my firm, Rentlogic, a company designed to give apartment buildings grades based on a combination of public data and physical building inspections. Because our ratings are based on an algorithm that uses public data, we wanted to ensure it was unbiased. We hired aforementioned Weapons of Math Destruction author, Cathy O’Neil, who spent five months going through our code to prove it faithfully represented what we say it did. This is paramount for creating trust from the public and private sectors as well as our investors; people now care more than ever about impacting in companies creating a positive impact.

With more and more stakeholders turning their attention to algorithms, I hope we will see more firms independently doing the same. In order for the tech industry to maintain integrity and faith in algorithms — and the public’s trust — we must take it upon ourselves to seek third-party audits voluntarily. The alternative will be disastrous.

More TechCrunch

Ahead of the AI safety summit kicking off in Seoul, South Korea later this week, its co-host the United Kingdom is expanding its own efforts in the field. The AI…

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

8 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities