There are plenty of jobs that simply shouldn’t be automated.
They’re the kinds of tasks a computer run amok could escalate quickly from small folly to full-blown disaster. Think heart surgeon, teacher, airline pilot, or rocket scientist.
Lets add unemployment caseworker to that list.
The proof: The debacle caused by an algorithm Michigan policy makers put in place to make judgments about the validity of unemployment claims in the state.
State officials probably thought they were clever by calling the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System by the acronym MIDAS. They did, after all, plan to save the state mountains of cash by replacing about 400 state workers with the unemployment office version of HAL 9000.
Unfortunately, it seems everything that MIDAS computer system touched turned brown and smelly, not gold and precious.
Michigan Unemployment Insurance officials watched fraud determinations triple from the moment they flipped the switch to start feeding unemployment claims through their new gizmo.
Seems like such a spike in should’ve elicited a second or third look from the department’s overseers. Such a spike would be a strong indicator of one of two things: either the previous workforce at the department was so ineffective it missed the majority of fraudulent filings; or there was something gravely wrong with the department’s new robot judge.
In 2017, an internal probe found the automated system put in place by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration had incorrectly claimed fraud in 93 percent of about 21,000 filings made by out of work Michiganders during a 22-month period.
We can’t be sure, but a simple human review of those fraud accusations probably would’ve averted debacle.
But thousands of Michigan workers say the damage exacted by the state’s malfunctioning computer extended far beyond a simple denied unemployment claim or two. Droves of our neighbors, through a mountain of legal filings, have recounted horrific experiences they say cascaded into their lives after MIDAS’ touch.
Many say the system inflicted massive damage on their lives at a moment when they were financially vulnerable and had few resources to fight the illegitimate accusations. Some claim they learned of the state’s fraud accusations only after their wages were garnished. Others simply didn’t receive the support payments to which they were entitled, money that for many would help pay mortgages and feed their families.
Now, thanks to a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling last week, lawsuits brought on behalf of thousands of those workers who were targeted by false fraud accusations can proceed. The case previously bounced between the appeals court and the Michigan Supreme Court, but the latest determination states workers who were incorrectly ensnared by MIDAS have the right to collect damages for state actions the appellate judges characterized as “egregious” and “disturbing.”
We don’t often cheer for more lawsuits in our increasingly litigious society, particularly ones that will elicit payouts from state coffers, but this is an instance we applaud.
Nobody wants to see fraudsters bilk our state’s unemployment insurance system, but we also should be able to trust that safety net for which we all pay will be there when we need it. And we certainly shouldn’t expect that net to be used drown our neighbors during vulnerable periods in their lives.
Hopefully, those who sustained damage inflicted by MIDAS will take the agency responsible to the cleaners, and maybe in doing so, wipe clean the systemic dysfunction that allowed it to occur.
Some jobs simply shouldn’t be replaced by computers, especially the ones that require a little compassion.