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Computer says no

Discussion in 'Personal' started by monicabilongame, Oct 14, 2019.

  1. monicabilongame

    monicabilongame Star commenter


    The UK government is accelerating the development of robots in the benefits system in a digitisation drive that vulnerable claimants fear could plunge them further into hunger and debt, the Guardian has learned.

    The Department for Work and Pensions has hired nearly 1,000 new IT staff in the past 18 months, and has increased spending to about £8m a year on a specialist “intelligent automation garage” where computer scientists are developing over 100 welfare robots, deep learning and intelligent automation for use in the welfare system.

    As well as contracts with the outsourcing multinationals IBM, Tata Consultancy and CapGemini, it is also working with UiPath, a New York-based firm co-founded by Daniel Dines, the world’s first “bot billionaire” who last month said: “I want a robot for every person.” His software, used by Walmart and Toyota, is now being deployed in a bid to introduce machine learning into checking benefit claims.

    The DWP is also testing artificial intelligence to judge the likelihood that citizens’ claims about their childcare and housing costs are true when they apply for benefits.

    It has deployed 16 bots to communicate with claimants and help process claims and is building a “virtual workforce” to take over some of the jobs of humans. One recent tender document requested help to build “systems that … can autonomously carry out tasks without human intervention”.

    The developments emerged during a Guardian investigation into one of the most radical but least understood welfare reforms since the roll-out of universal credit that will apply to 7 million people.

    The DWP believes welfare transactions could be handled more quickly, accurately and cheaply using robotic process automation and is developing it for use in UC.

    But claimants have warned the existing automation in UC’s “digital by default” system has already driven some to hunger, breakdown and even attempted suicide. One described the online process as a “Kafka-like carousel”, another as “hostile” and yet another as a “form of torture”. Several said civil servants already appeared to be ruled by computer algorithms, unable to contradict their verdicts.

    “We are striking the right balance between having a compassionate safety net on which we spend £95bn, and creating a digital service that suits the way most people use technology,” said a DWP spokesperson. “Automation means we are improving accuracy, speeding up our service and freeing up colleagues’ time so they can support the people who need it most.”

    But Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions select committee, warned that vulnerable claimants “will be left at the mercy of online systems that, even now, leave all too many people teetering on the brink of destitution”.

    “We’ve already seen, in the gig economy, how workers are managed and sacked, not by people, but by algorithms,” he said. “Now the welfare state looks set to follow suit, with the ‘social’ human element being stripped away from ‘social security’.”

    Key details about the automation push remain secret. The DWP has refused freedom of information requests to explain how it gathers data on citizens. Simon McKinnon, the chief digital and information officer of DWP Digital, said this year it was developing a way to “build a holistic understanding of digital personas”, but refused to say what information was gathered to do this.

    The ministry has previously told parliament it gathers data from private credit reference agencies, the police, the Valuation Office Agency, the Land Registry and the National Fraud Initiative, which gather information from public and private bodies. But it is now declining to update the list, claiming it would “compromise the usefulness of that data”.

    “There are concerns that government is accelerating the automation of the welfare system without a proper evidence-based consultation about its impacts,” said Dr Lina Dencik, co-founder of the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University.

    “Users have already raised significant problems and we need to understand which groups are more likely to be targeted by algorithmic decision-making than others to understand if it shows bias.”

    The centre of the robotics drive is the DWP’s “intelligent automation garage”, a unit based in Newcastle and Manchester where 32 programmers design, build and run automations.

    Staff are using UiPath to develop machine learning to check claims for fraud, which suggests welfare computers will autonomously learn and alter the way they make decisions with minimum human intervention.

    One recent staff member at Newcastle told the Guardian they already “have ways of creating a digital image of somebody”. He stressed much of the work was secret, but said this did not mean it was against citizens’ interests.

    The digital transformation is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. The DWP Digital’s budget has risen 17% to £1.1bn in the past year and IT firms have been awarded huge contracts to help run the system. The DWP is also rapidly expanding its own private technology company Benefits and Pensions Digital Technology Services, which recruited more than 400 staff in the year to April, while DWP Digital recruited 520.

    A spokesperson for the DWP insisted it was using AI to help people find work, to reduce the burden on claimants to prove their circumstances, and to help vulnerable people access welfare more easily without having to provide evidence of their digital identity.

    “We want to be supporting staff and citizens with the information they need, at the right time, and not disadvantaging those who are vulnerable,” they said.

    However, there is evidence of rising error rates in parts of the welfare system that have already been automated. A system of realtime data-sharing between the HMRC tax office and the DWP about universal credit claimants’ earnings is triggering more and more disputes, with the rate rising fourfold between May 2017 and October 2018, according to the government’s own figures, with up to 5,700 people a month affected.
  2. Duke of York

    Duke of York Star commenter

    Wouldn't it be more sensible to try this technolgy out on people who own expensive houses, have expensive cars registered in their names and take expensive holidays along with HMRC records to assess the likelihood that their tax returns were accurate first?
  3. needabreak

    needabreak Star commenter

    I think they are but not sure you need an expensive house, car and holidays to qualify.
    LondonCanary likes this.
  4. oldsomeman

    oldsomeman Star commenter

    A computer is only as intelligent as its user. (or is it, its programmer?)
    Just how many are affected by this new system?
  5. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    It would most likely increase the revenues collected by the tax office.
    But then these people wouldn't be able to make huge donations to the Tory party would they?
  6. LondonCanary

    LondonCanary Star commenter

    I don't think everyone with an expensive house (how much is expensive) and expensive car donates to the Conservative party. What makes you think that?
  7. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Star commenter

    I think it is Lefty shorthand. A century ago the working classes did not own property and the rich, did. It is evident that some of our commenters' thinking is stuck far back in time and is not cognisant of reality as it exists in the 21st Century. My wife and I own our house. We worked as teachers all our lives to pay the mortgage and now upon retirement the house finally belongs to us. We own a five year old Ford car. Are we "the rich"? Does the fact we have worked all our lives to make our way in the world mean we should be the targets for the hate from some on this forum. We do not require state benefits at the moment but if the day comes when we do, should we be the target of the type of prejudice so blatantly demonstrated on this thread?
    LondonCanary likes this.
  8. Jamvic

    Jamvic Star commenter

    Not so anymore, for example, Machine Learning (ML), Artificial emotional intelligence (AEI) and Machine perception (MP) are just some useful AI subsets that are here to stay. They improve in functionality year on year.
  9. Mainwaring

    Mainwaring Lead commenter

    'We own a five year old Ford car. Are we "the rich"?'

    Definitely. Our Ford is fifteen and has just embarked on its third hundred thousand kilometres.
  10. Laphroig

    Laphroig Lead commenter

    Working online with DWP on universal credit is ok until you can no longer to pay your internet bill or the £7 bus fare to visit to use their free wifi.
    monicabilongame likes this.
  11. moscowbore

    moscowbore Star commenter

    I totally agree with previous posters. The potential savings due to using ai-bots in the benefits system are miniscule compared to the tax which currently goes unpaid by multi-nationals.
    Why spend all that money to save a few quid?

    I can only conclude that the real purpose of spending all of that money is being kept secret.
  12. LondonCanary

    LondonCanary Star commenter

    Maybe but because the multi nationals comply with existing laws no tax is actually unpaid.
  13. moscowbore

    moscowbore Star commenter

  14. LondonCanary

    LondonCanary Star commenter

    They supply the accounts required by law. Why do you think that is not so?
    nomad likes this.
  15. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    It's disingenuous of Amazon to make claims for total tax paid in UK and including things like Employers NI and Business Rates on premises. So what, so do all employers, it's not a relevant comparison to other companies. If you have actual employees and actual business premises in the UK there's no practical way of avoiding Employers' NI or Business Rates. It's the Corporation Tax that can be avoided by complex business and accounting structures and which they are criticised about.
  16. moscowbore

    moscowbore Star commenter

    Did you read the link? The article begins ...

    Amazon has been accused of continuing to underpay corporation tax in the UK despite nearly tripling the payment from a key British division to £14m.
  17. LondonCanary

    LondonCanary Star commenter

    I did. You said legally required accounts were not produced. I don't see that in the article.
    An opinion that a chosen accounting practice is an underpayment of tax is just a moral opinion. The OECD and EU are adopting regulations to regulate intercompany accounting; in the meantime the activities remain legal
  18. Wotton

    Wotton Lead commenter

    I doubt if the DWP bot will be any worse than speaking to an actual person. (based on my communication with them).
    monicabilongame and Jamvic like this.
  19. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Star commenter

    Now where did I put my shiny top hat and absurdly fat cigar?
    LondonCanary likes this.

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