What is an algorithm?
An algorithm is a list of rules to follow in order to perform a task. So, you could think of following a recipe as an algorithm. Just about every piece of software you encounter uses algorithms, from dating apps to video games and online shopping sites.
Of course, algorithms get a lot more complicated than a recipe. And we don’t always know how an algorithm was designed, what data was used to shape it, or how it works. Often, we don’t even know an algorithm was used in a decision that affects our lives.
Government Use of Algorithms
Algorithms (and therefore the people that develop and deploy them) are shaping your life and our society in constant, complex, and substantial ways—from your search results to your social media feeds to your mortgage approval.
You can expect that we’ll be seeing more algorithms in the future, which is why it’s important that we make sure we’re getting oversight right sooner rather than later. There’s wide variance in how these algorithms are developed and put into place agency by agency.
So, Now What?
Great question. Algorithmic bias and related problems can’t just be “fixed” with technical solutions. There are lots of ways to think about how to make government use of algorithms more just.
Please, let us know what you think! You can submit comments here and you can take our survey. We’re also happy to come talk with local organizations to get your feedback and to tell you more.
We’ll be releasing the Pittsburgh Task Force on Public Algorithms report in 2021, and the report’s recommendations are being shaped by you and your neighbors. The work is focused on practical steps that Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh should take to ensure that government use of algorithms in our region is transparent, accountable, and just.