We are all just ‘data-points’ now!

August 20, 2020 5:23 PM
By Mark Wooding

Should we have been surprised by the Tories' exams fiasco? Papers

Even accepting that the Cabinet has been filled by Prime Minister Johnson with Yes-woman and Yes-men, more for their loyalty than their ability, we really shouldn't be surprised.

This is a Government that sees us, its citizens, as data-points not people. We are here to be modelled. Algorithms are to be applied to decide how we'll behave and what we'll do. We are reduced to the lowest common denominator. The herd. (Tellingly the Conservatives' early objective in the COVID-19 crisis was to achieve 'herd immunity' - not really a very attractive way to describe the UK population.)

The Tories do not see us as individuals with our own unique circumstances and, often, unique problems. The politics of the market where 'one size fits all' is how they look at the populace.

So of course an algorithm was the 'perfect' way to treat our children and to decide their exam results and their future.

Remember this is a Government run by Dominic Cummings: a man who famously used his mastery of algorithms to manipulate and distort social media to win a flawed Brexit campaign. So is it any surprise that in Government he turns to the tool he knows and loves best? The algorithm. No.

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The problem with all algorithms is that they are based on presumptions, perceptions and estimates. As a result they are prone to error (at best) and to bias (at worst). They are not science, but have the benefit of being able to be presented as science, the political fig-leaf of our age.

So until this Tory Government remembers that we are each, woman, man and child, individuals expect more use of algorithms and with it discrimination and unfairness.

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