As AI spreads, this will become an increasingly important and controversial issue:
For one British university, what began as a time-saving exercise ended in disgrace when a computer model set up to streamline its admissions process exposed – and then exacerbated – gender and racial discrimination.
As detailed here in the British Medical Journal, staff at St George’s Hospital Medical School decided to write an algorithm that would automate the first round of its admissions process. The formulae used historical patterns in the characteristics of candidates whose applications were traditionally rejected to filter out new candidates whose profiles matched those of the least successful applicants.
By 1979 the list of candidates selected by the algorithms was a 90-95% match for those chosen by the selection panel, and in 1982 it was decided that the whole initial stage of the admissions process would be handled by the model. Candidates were assigned a score without their applications having passed a single human pair of eyes, and this score was used to determine whether or not they would be interviewed.
Quite aside from the obvious concerns that a student would have upon finding out a computer was rejecting their application, a more disturbing discovery was made. The admissions data that was used to define the model’s outputs showed bias against females and people with non-European-looking names.
The truth was discovered by two professors at St George’s, and the university co-operated fully with an inquiry by the Commission for Racial Equality, both taking steps to ensure the same would not happen again and contacting applicants who had been unfairly screened out, in some cases even offering them a place.
There is more here, and I thank the excellent Mark Thorson for the pointer.