(Bloomberg Opinion) — Bad algorithms have been causing a lot of trouble lately. One, designed to supplant exam scores, blew the college prospects of untold numbers of students attending International Baccalaureate schools around the world. Then another did the same for even more students in lieu of the U.K.’s high-stakes “A-level” exams, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to call it a “mutant” and ultimately use human-assigned grades instead.
Actually, I would argue that pretty much all algorithms are mutants. People just haven’t noticed yet.
The foibles of algorithms usually go unseen and undiscussed, because people lack the information and power they need to recognize and address them. When, for example, computers issue scores that decide how much people pay for mortgage loans or insurance policies, or who gets a job, the victims of mistakes typically don’t know what’s going on. Often, nobody even tells them their score, let