The Digital Poorhouse

Article/Op-Ed in Harper's Magazine
Jan. 1, 2018

Virginia Eubanks had a lengthy excerpt of her new book, Automating Inequality, published in the January edition of Harper's Magazine:

Forty years ago, nearly all the major decisions that shape our lives—whether or not we are offered employment, a mortgage, insurance, credit, or a government service—were made by human beings. They often used actuarial processes that functioned more like computers than people, but human discretion still prevailed.
Today, we have ceded much of that decision-making power to machines. Automated eligibility systems, ranking algorithms, and predictive risk models control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain needed resources, who is short-listed for employment, and who is investigated for fraud. Our world is crisscrossed by information sentinels, some obvious and visible: closed-circuit cameras, GPS on our cell phones, police drones. But much of our information is collected by inscrutable, invisible pieces of code embedded in social media interactions, applications for government services, and every product we buy. They are so deeply woven into the fabric of social life that, most of the time, we don’t even notice that we are being watched and analyzed.