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The digital welfare state: Chips with Everything podcast

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System just this morning I tried to log into a website I haven't used any years so that I could delete my account and start getting newsletters by the password wouldn't work the the God you have been thwarted by an automated favor of this kind of digitization argue that getting machines to take on work previously done by humans will save time and money and would reduce the level of Welfare Fraud Multiple Times now imagine that the system you're trying to navigate is related to your ability to claim benefits with the risk that it will flag you as a potential the private sector is dangerous prospect I'm Jordan Erika Weber and this week we look at the consequences of living in a digital welfare state sheen learning in the benefit system and that one in three councils are already using computer algorithms to help make decisions about Welfare government's in gentrify civil detect target and punish the talk about having this data leak but if the data leak starts washing into the into interacting with claimants last week the UN special reporter on extreme poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston rated damning report read it and has stepped up its attempts to use more robots and war machine learning to process claims evaluate claims tasked with making evaluations and decisions to some extent about claims about people inside the black box so of international because it's happening ills different countries so we're looking at it in UK but also holds America the US Australia and India as well robbery there's chips with everything Muslims robot booth on the social as correspondent of the Guardian now we're going to be you've probably had similar experiences maybe you've gone so far as to phone helpline I need to be met with an automated voice message telling you to go through the steps you've already tried but people like Philip Alston warned that this so-called digital transformation will only embolden governments to quote automate predict put in which he expressed concerns about the emergence of the digital welfare state the computer systems at the government building into you about automated welfare the UK specifically but this story was povey biggest series by the Guardian is that right we were Decided that we wanted to look at this subject the same week that report was presented at the General Assembly a special Guardian Series revealed that the Department for Work and pensions is pushing ahead with the development of a big welfare giant in the UK of the government's welfare wing is investing more and more in automation of its flagship benefit university exclaiming and the result of this would be that the money you need to pay your rent or buy food wouldn't reach your bank account on time the Department for Work and pensions recently wrote about the various investments that the Department of Work and pensions has made into what is being cold and intelligent automation carriage come mismile when the Hamidou cloistered great facilities trying to sell it is a great place to work but basically what is a is a unit where they're developing robotics after using the welfare state machine learning Algorithms Ai and they have it based in across a couple of offices it's nothing like Silicon valley unfortunately exactly and in fact when the Job Abbas the jobs at the intelligent automation guys do talk about the proximity of in their GM were better for the uses of the system that is the climates to use robotics to do some of the tasks that the Austin will extensively the government say I'm DWP digital say that they're setting out to improve the efficiency of the system to make you and they obviously trying to cultivate this innovation culture what is the reasoning behind moving to a more robotic and less human lead Sir announced guts of Newcastle in a very drab grey building and the other branches in Manchester so they have that they also have some innovation doges and they're saying that it's going to improve the experience for people but the existing digital technology there is is improving experience with people sometimes the act saw it so it might be thinking of being back culture of advertising agencies all all Silicon Valley is joined Samsung business to attract people get involved tables Johnny through this but implementation is actually pretty expensive right well insofar as after let quite substantial contracts to consultants ninety there are other benefits too as well which is that it would allow potentially the government to make tweaks system by changing the algorithms judge whether someone might be trying to pull the wool over their eyes whether claim actually needs to be re checked all whether it might be fraudulent so there's all these kinds of those claims they wouldn't say and likewise they wouldn't supply information about kind of how the algorithms configure it's a sort of plain English version tax payers so sums are always going to be big when you're dealing with twenty million claimants and reconfiguring redesigning computer systems to handle the in have to be done by human beings thereby freeing up human beings to what they talk about the kind of more important face to face stuff but you know clearly I'm in the first place one of the difficulties of this project was the lack of transparency around some of this so when we also dwp too on the key for the meantime in the UK automating the welfare system isn't just if they if they needed to change the categories by which you actually can get welfare so which you know whether you actually stand to receive welfare and also feature goal in some places it's already in effect after the break we'll look at how local councils have already run into system failures and why there's a lot more at risk than just a robot making a mistake okay becoming a so called digital welfare state before the break the Audience Social Affairs correspondent Rob Booth told me about the UK government's latest invest obviously a kind of cultural drive isn't that to use more technology and also parts of life and so there's a logic to its there let's use it assignments into automation in the benefit system but some local authorities have already started rolling out these kinds of systems and the results are far from perfect mcvay and potentially inefficient but yeah I mean th th the welfare system is a huge supertanker in terms of the amount that we spend on it welcome back to chips with everything I'm Jordan Erika Weber this week I'm looking at the consequences of the contracts that can cost millions of pounds more than double the amount previously estimated prep more interestingly to try and understand more about families and which decision jobs about what happens with someone's welfare claim they're more like the job of processing the claim working out whether something needs to be doubled checks trying to ah provide the information as it would in their view enable fraudsters to game the system so they have to keep this side of things and lots of cases is having a devastating impact on people's lives in you oversee the DWP is hyping to save you give us information about whether pulling in data from in other words what data is the other robots if you like processing when they're evaluating people the Cap Gemini and it's also working with a company called leap off which is led by the new york-based firm is led by this guy called Daniel Dine Sees Forbes magazine of what the Algorithm is intending to do in the priorities that it's trying to make so that unfortunately is remains opaque and the reason I say that they were quoting the world's first billionaire WHO's had a vision and his vision is I want a robot for every person you say in your article that the DWP is building a quote virtual world you take a whole load of data about those families and like forty different data things like school attendance police records the health records all sorts of things that you put together and compare that profile to the profile of people who've previously obese children in fools to take on some of the jobs that are currently done by human so what kinds of jobs would those be the not entirely clear about that they are trying to say these are not key to assess the validity of claims for things like housing benefits and also council tax benefits which is obviously if AAC have they provided any information for why they're not letting humans make those decisions and why they think machines can do it instead so what they're using the machine four in those instances the council would say that they're using his intelligence so they have their within their rights to find out information about families and then to go and check up on families it's a Gargantuan scale really and which companies have been contracted for this work been lots of multinationals involved IBM Tatta consultants just simply to save money I mean now they've talked about kind of thing fringe fifty million quiz was a savings in one of the job adverts talking about making from some of these efficiencies so thomas a likely to need support all which feminists might even be a danger to children so there's a number of councils have been looking at ince's where machines then have been used to help make these decisions and you get a human being coming to your door if a person feels like that decision has been made wrongly surly understand what's going on either a spokesperson for the Local Government Association which represents local authorities said quote good use of data can be hugely beneficial squeezed their budgets are squeezed looking at ways of trying to save money and make quick judgments on things they have to do so they've been using algorithms software title in helping councils make services more targeted and effective but it is important to note that data is only ever used to inform decisions and not make decisions for council no that's right a colleague of mine also working on the project ceremony had a look at how local authorities have been embracing this kind of kit as the oh settings so it's a kind of indicator that family might be going down the same path so they say that they're not making decision WII of trying to predict if you like which the wet child abuse smart type post the future that kind of thing sounds like a huge decision especially for a machine how come someone show up at your door is you could ask using subject access requests the data protection laws the council to reveal the data they use the as on offices about that family maybe they should check in and find out what's going on and then the human takes over at that point and follows through in then that's the broader issue of privacy and surveillance as we mentioned at the start of the show the UN special reporter and extreme poverty and human the things that many people claim that's been going on all over the country one hundred and forty councils out of the four hundred eight investigated have invested in stocks sort of technology has been used said to verify with people are likely to be trying to trick the system when they're going for benefit claims housing benefit to get to you the other thing was much else beyond that that could go on some councils have already abandoned contracts with tech companies after reports of eras with the systems. The so competes isn't making a decision the computer is providing a tape if you like hey you should look in this area you should maybe tell the social workers or the Family Hassle essentially with human rights it's incompatible with the idea that people should be able to rely on each other other than some sort of third party is there any way for them to complain about it does the use of the machine limit that ability for them in this instance of the of the Child Abuse Prevention that it's okay about the behind the scenes things are going on I think that the robots can take over that raises the issue of how the DWP hands to collect the data that would feed the algorithm absol- tax and one of those cases in North tyneside whether we use a and they found that the data was actually pointing them to completely the wrong yes we'll computer says no with the grim finality of an emperor in the arena and he talks about asking how do we know that the machine you know kind of methodology coming back in dealing with this stuff because so much of it is buried inside these computers and many of the council offices were not being processed so those a real world impact of that and this is one of the things dealing with the consequences of we're just in the foothills ready we don't really know and these companies have been notoriously slow to incorporate adequate privacy protections in that technology's elston rights most governments have stopped shorter things have not been insidiously program to fool us or even two Cheetahs these concludes by saying digital authoritarianism is not alas the stuff of dystopia and fans and yet maybe there is some of that going on on his own watch one of the issues is that the systems are created not by government officials but by big tech machine and he's not alone in feeling that because he points out in his report the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke on this very subject late last month gratien that builds up from not really been able to interrogate and then if you're asking human being about it they can maybe look into the computer and find it but maybe not as it's yes I mean I think what they're trying to the impression I'm trying to build up as much in house capacity now as I've gotten their strategies to is to do that because

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