The Role of Technology in Limiting Privilege and Bias

December 1, 2016

Technology cannot eliminate human bias or poor decisions, but it has the potential to eliminate systemic bias and privilege.

Technological skills are often viewed as the dividing line between globalization's "winners" and "Losers." Those with high technology skills tend to be paid considerably more than those with lower skills, and have more opportunities to advance.

In this view, technology is the purview of the highly skilled, highly paid "winners" of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and "the rest of us" are merely consumers of technology.

I think this overlooks the great potential of technology to flatten privilege and reduce institutional bias. I discuss this in my new book Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege. Here is an excerpt from the book:

What kind of system eliminates social privilege and opens equal opportunities to all?

The answer I describe in my book A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology & Creating Jobs for All is technology-based: each member of every Community Labor Integrated Money Economy (CLIME) group is paid the same for every hour of work as every other member in the region. Every member and group has the same opportunity to buy and sell goods and services on their own in the CLIME marketplace. Different groups will earn different outcomes, but the opportunities for advancement will be equal for all participants, as individuals can switch groups, join multiple groups or start their own group.

Software, if properly programmed, is blind to human bias. A software-based system can eliminate bias and privilege by treating every member and organization equally.

Imagine a city in the near future that only allows self-driving rental cars on its streets: human-driven privately owned vehicles are banned as hazards. Every rented vehicle obeys all traffic rules, and accidents are rare. (Recall that vehicle speeds are low in congested cities.)

Why would the city waste valuable police time cruising streets filled with vehicles that cannot deviate from traffic rules? The only time it would make sense to send a traffic officer out is to file a report on the rare accident.

If an officer did pull a car over for a defective tail light, the driver would be blameless, as the responsibility for repairing the tail light would fall to the rental car agency, not the driver. Since the vehicles would record all activity, there would be readily available evidence if police officers pulled over vehicles with no ticketable defects because the driver happened to be African-American.

Not only would it make no sense financially for the city to pay police officers to monitor self-driving rental cars, any city government that persisted in driving while black bias would open itself to punishing civil lawsuits. The data collected by the rental car fleet would be undeniable in court.

Technology cannot eliminate human bias or poor decisions, but it has the potential to eliminate systemic bias and privilege, and collect data that makes any remaining bias transparent to all—not just to the unprivileged who experience the bias first-hand.

Technology has the potential to offer everyone the same opportunities for individually tailored advancement. While software cannot eliminate differences in wealth-based opportunities—for example, the children of wealthy families get private lessons, while the children of disadvantaged families do not—technology has the potential to level the playing field (for example, by enabling nearly free lessons tailored to each student), and provide transparency at levels that are unreachable in systems riddled with human bias.

While there is no substitute for caring, encouraging parents and mentors, technology can open the path to the advantaged class that is currently a thicket of obstacles for the disadvantaged.

For what it's worth, my copy editor reckons Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege ($3.95 Kindle ebook, $8.95 print edition) is my best book. It is, if nothing else, highly relevant to today's economic/social schisms.

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