Algorithms manipulated by humans. Deia, News from Bizkaia


I havebeen in Washington these days. One of the airports in the city is the Ronald Reagan. As in any airport, dozens of taxis await the arrival of passengers. The difference between US airports and what we see in Europe is that Uber and Lyft, the two large mobility companies, have a strong presence. It has been known these days that the drivers of these taxis had designed a simple mechanism to artificially raise the prices of travel.

Before knowing how they have committed fraud, we must understand how these digital systems not regulated by public administrations set the rates. Basically they are markets with an offer – drivers and their vehicles – and a demand – tourists and citizens looking for a displacement – which is what determines prices. If supply and demand change, so do prices accordingly.

Apparently, supply and demand can not be orchestrated or coordinated because, as in any market, it would be attacking free competition. Well apparently it is what the drivers of these companies did: they turned off their service for a minute or two collectively so that, due to the shortage of supply, the price would rise in the face of growing demand. The algorithms of Uber and Lyft did not detect these coordinations, and determined that the price had to be raised. Between 10 and 20 dollars each way they managed to raise the rate by planning their blackout when they knew that certain planes were arriving. It was a climb in about 2-3 minutes. Algorithms defeated by humans.

Supply and demand can not be orchestrated or coordinated, because, as in any market, free competition is being attempted. Well, that's what Uber and Lyft drivers did

The motive behind this action is the labor demand that they do not stop doing on the commissions that remain these mobility companies: between 35 and 40%. By now we know that collaborative economy have little or have these companies. Driver United, a non-union organization that represents non-formally the drivers of Uber and Lyft issued a statement informing about the unsustainable business model that these companies have. They defended, in a way, the basic rights and a minimum wage for their represented.

Beyond work aspects, what also deserves attention is how are these types of algorithmic companies entering our day to day without making deep reflections. To leave the mobility of people in the hands of such a manipulable market, we can not afford it. He recalled with it certain points that came up with the famous debate of taxi drivers in Spain. Surely, as in other planes of life, the balance forces to yield from each side. Because what I have clear is that a free model with algorithms in between does not work. An algorithm, so used to somehow talk about artificial or augmented intelligence, needs at the moment the human judgment, its conscience and ethics to be able to arbitrate these decisions.

If a group of taxi drivers, with this simple mechanism, got those increases in minutes, what would happen one day when an algorithm sets interest rates or social security contributions? They are dystopias, of course, but for that reason we can not have superficial confusions about what the mechanisms that automate certain human decisions really contribute to us. These are vulnerable automatisms for the simple fact that they do not have the capabilities that humans have, nor the human sensitivity nor the ethics that evolution has given us. To date, there is no empirical evidence that glimpses the possibility of creating conscious machines. We are far from having an artificial intelligence capable of approaching the polyvalence of our minds. We have been able to create specialized artificial intelligences in certain fields. They have even defeated us chess or looking for patterns in images. But from there to general intelligence, there is considerable space.

No one has shown that it is not possible to create superhuman artificial intelligence. And it has not been proven that it can. It is very human to exaggerate what will happen to us.


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