US civil rights officials warn employers of biased artificial intelligence

The federal government said May 12 that artificial intelligence technology to screen new job candidates or monitor worker productivity can unfairly discriminate against people with disabilities, sending a warning to employers that commonly used hiring tools may violate civil rights laws.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have jointly released advice for employers to be careful before using popular algorithmic tools intended to streamline the work of job evaluation. employees and employment prospects, but which may also violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We are sounding the alarm about the dangers of an indiscriminate reliance on AI and other technologies that we see increasingly used by employers,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told reporters. the department’s Civil Rights Division on May 12. “The use of AI is compounding the longstanding discrimination faced by job seekers with disabilities.

Examples given of popular work-related AI tools included resume scanners, employee monitoring software that ranks workers based on keystrokes, game-like online tests to assess job skills, and video interview software that measures a person’s speech patterns or facial expressions.

Such technology could potentially wipe out people with speech impairments, severe arthritis that slows typing or a range of other physical or mental disabilities, officials said.

Tools designed to automatically analyze work behavior may also overlook workplace accommodations – such as a quiet workstation for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or more frequent breaks for a pregnancy-related disability – that allow employees to change their working conditions to perform their jobs successfully.

Experts have long warned that AI-based recruiting tools — while often touted as a way to eliminate human bias — can actually reinforce bias if they draw inspiration from industries where racial and social disparities exist. gender are already widespread.

The move to clamp down on the harm they can do to people with disabilities reflects a broader push by President Joe Biden’s administration to foster positive advances in AI technology while mastering opaque AI tools and widely unregulated that are used to make important decisions about people. lives.

“We totally recognize that there is huge potential to streamline things,” said Charlotte Burrows, president of the EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing workplace discrimination laws. “But we can’t let these tools become a high-tech route to discrimination.”

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