Claire Cain Miller: “Can an Algorithm Hire Better Than a Human?” (Yes, If Doesn’t Do Affirmative Action)


The indomitable Claire Cain Miller is back in the NYT to promote various startups for nominals reasons that are about 179 degrees askew from the real reasons the firms exist.

Can an Algorithm Hire Better Than a Human?
JUNE 25, 2015

Claire Cain Miller

Hiring and recruiting might seem like some of the least likely jobs to be automated. The whole process seems to need human skills that computers lack, like making conversation and reading social cues.

But people have biases and predilections. They make hiring decisions, often unconsciously, based on similarities that have nothing to do with the job requirements — like whether an applicant has a friend in common, went to the same school or likes the same sports.

That is one reason researchers say traditional job searches are broken. The question is how to make them better.

A new wave of start-ups — including Gild, Entelo, Textio, Doxa and GapJumpers — is trying various ways to automate hiring. They say that software can do the job more effectively and efficiently than people can. …

Another potential result: a more diverse workplace. The software relies on data to surface candidates from a wide variety of places and match their skills to the job requirements, free of human biases.

“Every company vets its own way, by schools or companies on résumés,” said Sheeroy Desai, co-founder and chief executive of Gild, which makes software for the entire hiring process. “It can be predictive, but the problem is it is biased. They’re dismissing tons and tons of qualified people.” …

Mr. Desai said that Gild finds more diverse candidates than employers typically do. In tech, it surfaces more engineers who are women and older and who come from a wider variety of colleges and socioeconomic backgrounds. “If you have white, young male engineers, who are they going to know?” Mr. Desai said. “White, young male engineers.” More than 80 percent of the technical employees at most tech companies are men, and less than 5 percent are black or Latino. …

… The tech industry is a focus for some of the hiring start-ups in part because it has more jobs than it can fill, and tech companies are under pressure to make their work forces more diverse. At Twitter, for instance, just 10 percent of technical employees are women, and at Facebook and Yahoo, it’s around 15 percent. Some women and minorities in tech describe an unwelcoming culture, and in response to the criticism, tech companies have begun publishing their diversity data and pledging to make changes. …

Obviously, Facebook and Google don’t know anything about using data to make predictions about human behavior, so they’re leaving money on the table by not hiring enough of all the brilliant, hard-working Puerto Rican women programmers out there. We know they must exist because it’s racist and sexist to even consider that reality could be racist or sexist. That’s just logic. Where’s my programming job?

Thank goodness these new hiring analytics firms have come along so that Google and Facebook can finally start hiring the kind of people who will make them real money.

People will also need to make sure the algorithms aren’t just codifying deep-seated biases or, by surfacing applicants who have certain attributes, making workplaces just as homogeneous as they were before. “One of the dangers of these kinds of algorithms,” Ms. Rivera said, “is people just get overconfident because they’re relying on data.”

Here at the end, Claire seems vaguely troubled that maybe she’s getting her chain yanked by people peddling products that are going to be used to justify disparate impact in hiring because Data Science!

Everybody vaguely knows that the problem with the Supreme Court’s invention of disparate impact theory is that if it were applied rigorously enough, we’d be living in a Mad Max post-apocalyptic wasteland in about ten years.

So, parts of society goes through various paroxysms for awhile as the Eye of Sauron turns its baleful gaze on X. But it simultaneously ignores Y so that Y can get a lot of work done while X is being roasted. For a long time, for example, fire departments were carefully scrutinized while Silicon Valley was ignored because it was High Tech!

Similarly, nice white liberals in places like Marin Valley have used environmentalism to justify keeping their neighborhoods nice and white. Environmentalism has massive disparate impact, but that’s been okay because it’s environmentalism, which is, as everybody knows, nice, not nasty. But today the Supreme Court turned the Eye of Sauron a little more on disparate impact in housing, so we’ll see what will happen next.

A lot of new businesses have emerged in recent years to get around anti-discrimination norms. For example, Uber and AirBnB almost certainly have massive disparate impact But Uber et al are digital and disruptive and all that, so what could they have to do with the long legacy of slavery?

Of course, as they get deeper pockets, the shakedown artists will eventually get their claws into them, but paying off Jesse Jackson, like Intel is doing now, is just a cost of doing business.

So, the point of these Big Data hiring app firms is to outsource responsibility for hiring to Science. Eventually, the leeches will catch up with them, but professional SJWs really aren’t that smart and are easy to fool for quite awhile, so lots of money can be made in the meantime.