If you think that artificial intelligence is a threat you will have to face in the future, think again. It is already here, and it is a nightmare.
Under the category of “No good deed goes unpunished,” a couple of weeks ago I volunteered to guarantee the lease of an Afghan refugee family whom our church has been supporting for over a year. The father is hard working but only earns $16/hour as a security guard. Our group of three Episcopal churches helped them find housing, guaranteed the rent, and secured a housing grant from the local jurisdiction to make the rent more affordable. Now they are moving to another apartment due to rodent infestation where they live.
Most landlords require a minimum income of three times the rent to qualify for an apartment. There are five in the family, and most landlords also require a family of this size to rent a 3-bedroom unit. His annual income amounts to $32,500, which means he must find an apartment renting for no more than $812 including utilities. How many apartments are there in the Washington metro area where you can rent a 3-bedroom unit for that amount and that are in safe neighborhoods? Zero. Ditto for 2-bedroom units. Washington is one of the highest cost areas in the country–especially for housing. We were able to get them started only because our church guaranteed the rent and because we were able to secure for them a housing grant.
After an exhaustive search for a better apartment, they finally found a landlord who would rent them a 2-bedroom apartment in the same neighborhood, allowing the family’s two oldest children to remain in the same school. The problem: The cheapest 2-bedroom apartment was $2,200/month, compared to the rent of around $2,000 they were currently paying. Because the housing grant reduced the effective rent to around $1,300/month, they were able to get by, but it was still above of the $812 maximum “affordable rent” based on standard underwriting policies. The only way the family could rent the new apartment was to have a financially qualified guarantor, who would cosign the lease. Our church had guaranteed the rent for their first apartment, but the church funds had been exhausted. Someone had to step forward.
Hey, no problem. This was not my first experience providing financial support for immigrant families; and of the several families I had helped, not once had I been disappointed or been taken advantage of. I considered it a risk worth taking.
I was directed to go online to the website of the apartment complex, which was owned and managed by one of Washington’s largest real estate companies. The rental application required a prospective guarantor to submit the last three pay stubs by scanning or “dragging” them into the company’s website. I haven’t worked for 20 years and have no pay stubs. The management reported back that those were the rules: no pay stubs, no guarantor. When I adamantly protested and argued that using my federal income tax returns should suffice, they reluctantly agreed. I took a photo of a recent tax return and emailed it to them.
Rejected again. First, the material had to be submitted through their website, not by email, and second, the company’s website did not accept photos. I hopped in the car and drove to the complex. A pleasant leasing attendant helped me fill out the proper forms on their website, converted the photo of my tax return to a PDF, and entered that for me on their website. Done.
At last, a solution!
Nope. Rejected again. Just because the information was on my federal tax return did not mean that it was true. They had to have absolute proof from the financial institutions where Embry and I kept our money. Company policy required independent verification by some outside company, which would be allowed to enter the financial institution’s website where our investments were and copy and verify the information from our accounts. For this to happen all I would have to do was provide my social security number, username, account number, birthday, and password.
What? I was required to allow a company, which I know nothing about, to view and have access to all the funds in all our accounts? They had to be kidding. I recently posted a blog about how hackers got into my bank account at PNC Bank and came within a hair’s breadth or stealing every penny I had.
No, they argued, this was completely legit and is now a common practice. I reluctantly provided them full access—password, username, account number, birthday, and social security number—but only for one company, Fidelity Investments, and gritted my teeth. Only an idiot would agree to such a requirement. But at least the Afghan family would not be out in the street.
Two days passed. Rejected again. Fidelity refused to give them the information. I say, “Fidelity refused,” but what I now understand is that the Fidelity’s computer refused. In any event, good for Fidelity.
During this ordeal, which is now well into its third week, I have not been allowed to talk to a single human being who has the authority to review the material and make an independent, informed judgement. It is now all done by computers. All information must be scanned or “dragged” into a special website. The answer from the computer is the only answer that counts. Email is not allowed nor is any communication with any human being who could review the material and make an informed decision.
I volunteered to bring to their office hard copies of all the investment and bank account information that they required. I would permit them to make copies and scan them into their website. Not allowed. Only electronic copies from now on.
So here we are in 2024 entering the world of AI where in this instance no human being is allowed to make a decision or judgement based on the facts. The determination will now be made by computers. Their decision will be final. No exceptions even if it means that a struggling Afghan family will become homeless and out on the street.
Anything wrong with this picture?
So welcome to the world of artificial intelligence. And it is just the beginning. How long will it be before everywhere no humans will be involved in making decisions, just computers?
More to follow about what finally happened to the Afghan family…