No matter how advanced technology becomes, as long as it is controlled by human beings, all the traits that are present in these human beings are also going to manifest in the operations of these technologies. Taxicab and ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are at the forefront of technology yet, at the grassroots levels, it’s the fleet of drivers that makes the ultimate experience and these drivers come with their own racial and gender biases. This is why a new study has revealed that racial and gender discrimination among Uber and Lyft drivers is consistent with the social trends outside of this ecosystem.
The study found out that Uber drivers in Boston are more prone to canceling rides for men with black-sounding names. Black people in Seattle who booked Uber and Lyft cabs had to wait longer while being paired with other divers. Women riders are needlessly taken from longer routes. The study was published recently by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Washington.
As I have mentioned above, at the grassroots level, they are the same human beings with same prejudices and same biases that are driving around. Just because they are using an app to get customers it doesn’t mean that suddenly, since the tech world is “inclusive” they’re going to rid themselves of their fundamental mentalities.
Artificial intelligence can be used to minimize such incidents. Drivers who are found to be purposely indulging in such practices should be downgraded automatically and they should get fewer notifications for new riders compared to those who don’t discriminate. The software then can find out if a ride is canceled due to genuine reasons or due to racial and gender biases.
A positive thing is that new tech companies are sensitive towards solving these problems. They are trying to sensitize their drivers and their employees and whenever sensitization is not possible, rules are being implemented to make it less unprofitable for individuals and businesses conducting their operations through these technology companies to engage in discriminatory practices.
The above study was conducted in the areas of Seattle and Boston. A team of four black and four white researchers was constituted and it was split equally among men and women. All in all, they made 1500 bookings during a period of six weeks. They actively used their photos in the ridesharing apps in Seattle, but in Boston, it wasn’t made clear by the photographs whether the rides are being booked by black passengers or white passengers. In Boston, “African-American-sounding” and “white-sounding” names were used to create a bit of confusion. It was discovered that Uber drivers disproportionately canceled rides with black-sounding names even at the risk of getting penalized (the company penalizes drivers who canceled frequently). The research observed the same kind of discrimination even among traditional taxi drivers. More details about the research can be found in the link above.