Chapter 8. Be Careful with “Decisions of the Heart”

Hugh Watson

Today, companies and government organizations are increasingly using advanced analytics like deep learning to partially or fully automate decision making. Analytics is employed to make lending decisions, recommend probation or prison sentencing, screen job applicants, and more. While these algorithms can result in faster, cheaper, more efficient, and even fairer decision making, they are not without risk. Cathy O’Neil, in her influential book Weapons of Math Destruction (Crown), and others argue that algorithms can increase inequality, deny services and opportunities, and even threaten democracy.

The conversation between the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum provides an interesting perspective on the need for including “heart” as well as brains (i.e., algorithms) when automating decisions:

I don’t know enough,” replied the Scarecrow cheerfully. “My head is stuffed with straw, you know, and that is why I am going to Oz to ask him for some brains.” “Oh, I see,” said the Tin Woodman. “But, after all, brains are not the best things in the world.” “Have you any?” inquired the Scarecrow. “No, my head is quite empty,” answered the Woodman, “but once I had brains, and a heart also; so, having tried them both, I ...

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