Saturday, January 21

Big data

In Australia politicians are becoming excited over the application of the use of the so called “big data” to be adopted by the mega government departments. The reason is it offers the prospect of streamlining the payments system and uncovering fraud or overpayments with subsequent savings to the public purse. My concerns is any such system which relies more heavily on artificial intelligence must contain an ethical basis and at some point build in “human intervention” so that we do not become slaves to technology rather than its master.    
Hence I think Judy Bamberger’s letter (Centrelink’s proposed robo –assistant a joke) - AFR 19th January 2017, is spot on in condemning the inappropriate use of algorithms to determine who owes Centrelink money. Might I suggest the same robotic approach be applied to assess past claims paid to MP’s under their travel allowances, with the prospect of a high recovery for the benefit of the public purse. 

But innocent MP’s in receipt of such computer generated letters advising them of a potential past overpayment, and demanding an on online response within 21 days, with the prospect they may also need to justify such claims with travel documents and eligibility criteria, might feel justifiably aggrieved. The bottom line is these so called enquiry letters which were sent out “ en masse” and carried with them the warning any failure to respond will automatically triggers debt recovery action.      
Politicians and the management of Centrelink need to stop boasting about collecting another 300 million principally from the application of big data, if that practice relies heavily on robotics, already demonstrated to lead to numerous errors. 

Voters do expect Centrelink to have in place a system to cross check to taxation records and to be diligent in uncovering any false claims. One also welcomes any sensible efficiency measures, but not to assign responsibility to mindless robotics, whose recent debacle is all too evident. This is not innovation but rather a total lack of integrity.


Rachael Byrnes said...

Yes I agree. Your final line really hits home. Every system must include integrity and unfortunately computer programs aren't so good at that aspect. I would love to see this published in the AFR!! A good read.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Thanks Rachael - one day maybe !
Best wishes

Mercutio said...

The issue of automation in financial transactions recently came to the fore, when trading was halted on the NYSE for some company (I don't remember right now), after a computerized trade algorithm sensed its sell trigger, causing a sharp drop on the bid.
There is a limit these days as to how much stocks can lose in a day before trade is called to a halt.eats"
It seems, after that, no one would take such automation seriously.
Maybe they just took it as "A bit more tweaking around the edges is needed."

I've had a number of infuriating experiences where my credit card has been suspended, due to sales in more than one state in a day. Gas stations, naturally.
And I always seem to find out about it when I'm sitting at the gas pump.
For my protection, of course.

"Tax cheats" seems to be one of those out-groups that it's ok to slight on any occasion.
Vipers probably have more kind words spoken of them.

The indignation of false accusal doesn't seem to carry much weight these days.
Reality TV antics, or a replay of same, as perceived.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Mercutio,
The issue of automation in financial transactions is also taking us into a new era of dark pools, whose design purpose is to provide anonymity and ensure liquidity to the players who can discretely go about their trading business.
On our bourse which is the ASX, it has introduced the option of a system called ASX Centre Pont. This represents Australia’s largest anonymous matching system and hence offers the deepest source of dark liquidity. Like dark matter in physics from which no light or information can escape, so this system allows the execution trade to take place without any leakage of information.
The system improves execution across all listed securities, while affording greater protection since all orders are matched and executed anonymously.The ASX claims users have the added protection in relation to non-leakage by adopting one of their custom designed order types to give users control over counterparty engagement.
Credit card glitches are annoying here also but I have a friend in charge of IT capacity planning who informs me it is mostly to do with inadequate capacity and staffing of the institutions involved.
In relation to Centre link what happened in the past was staff would routinely cross check against data provided by other agencies to ascertain if there were any discrepancies and follow up with the recipients. Of course now having a robot-assistant will drastically reduce costs and make the process much speedier, but it has led to many errors that would not have occurred previously. I think it is a measure of how civilized (or uncivilized if you will) we are as to the extent we treat people equally, so that welfare to recipients are seen as clients of that government agency and not assumed to be tax cheats. Applying the principle of innocence until such time as thorough checking and or vetting of claims reveals false claims would be a good starting point.
Best wishes