Algorithmic risk assessments can alter human decision-making processes in high-stakes government contexts

12/09/2020
by   Ben Green, et al.
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Governments are increasingly turning to algorithmic risk assessments when making important decisions, believing that these algorithms will improve public servants' ability to make policy-relevant predictions and thereby lead to more informed decisions. Yet because many policy decisions require balancing risk-minimization with competing social goals, evaluating the impacts of risk assessments requires considering how public servants are influenced by risk assessments when making policy decisions rather than just how accurately these algorithms make predictions. Through an online experiment with 2,140 lay participants simulating two high-stakes government contexts, we provide the first large-scale evidence that risk assessments can systematically alter decision-making processes by increasing the salience of risk as a factor in decisions and that these shifts could exacerbate racial disparities. These results demonstrate that improving human prediction accuracy with algorithms does not necessarily improve human decisions and highlight the need to experimentally test how government algorithms are used by human decision-makers.

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