Explainability is Under Rated

by | Jul 17, 2020 | ICT4D |

In our house growing up, there was a shelf full of red, hard covered books full of information about how things work. I think it was a ‘Popular Mechanics’ series of sorts, but I can’t remember. I just remember spending hours going through it as a child – mostly looking at the pictures. It explained everything from cars, to jam, to how to build a tree fort. The tree fort pages were well-read. Looking back, it was a sort of youtube.

Understanding how things work is often undervalued. We leave it to ‘the experts’ or simple can’t be bothered. And when we are creators, we don’t want to explain our work to others. There is a part of us that wants to be the person behind the curtain pulling the strings.

We lose out when we do this though.

Explainability is under rated. Especially in technology and algorithms. When we can explain how system works, we can see how the information changes along the way. We can ‘see’ the decisions and assumptions being made. This allows us to discuss the assumptions and call out the bias or unconscious worldviews being applied.

Not knowing how the analysis happens or why it happens is a form of abdication of responsibilities, especially when we are engaging vulnerable people. Understanding how things work can be seen as a duty of care. It is also helps us be more transparent and more accountable.

This applies to mortgage applications as well as how we target and select recipients of aid. And yes, explaining how things work takes time at the front end, but in the long term saves time as it reduces questions, confusion, frustration, and so on. It’s a bit of a short cut that takes longer at the start.

The choice is up to us.

Photo by Gradikaa Aggi


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