In Praise of The Algorithm

In Praise of The Algorithm

Or How I Got Rich While Ride-Sharing My Way on the Backs of My Non-Employees

I think it goes without saying that bias is inherent among us all. So when, MIT Tech Review writes a post praising Uber’s dynamic pricing system, it is apparent that there is an appreciation bias towards their Silicon Valley counterparts. Overlooking the effect dynamic pricing often has on the Uber drivers, the author goes on to hail the algorithm for smart pricing during rush hours and lull hours.

Some might argue that algorithms might benefit the drivers themselves allowing them to make most out of the ebbs and flows of demand.

But it is also possible to make an argument that since these algorithms are coded by Uber themselves, the bias inherent in these algorithms is meant to benefit them above all. The dynamic pricing model is oriented to engage maximum coverage to supply the consumer demand and not to tackle the effective costs incurred by an individual driver.

As a business in competition, Uber also has to put up a consumer-first/friendly approach which means that the drivers will always face the brunt of the algorithm’s dynamic whims.

The solution? Just like how we have minimum wages (a scaffolding of a solution to a larger problem nobody wants to fix), we need to have a mutually agreed upon minimum rates beneath which Uber will never allow its algorithm to “dynamically” fall under. Likewise, if the algorithm is coded by a third-party that works with both drivers union and Uber, then finding a mid-point solution that benefits both equally is potentially possible.

The other MIT Tech Review article does offer a more critical look at the algorithm and the effects it has on the driver including some things that I mentioned in the above paragraphs, but it still maintains a perspective that almost hails the algorithmic efficiency and implicitly blames the Uber drivers for not catching up to the inevitable.


Categories: Blog, NYU Labor in the Mobile First World