Talking algorithms with Jeff Thamkittikasem

Jeff Thamkittikasem
Jeff Thamkittikasem
Jeff Thamkittikasem
Jeff Thamkittikasem

Talking algorithms with Jeff Thamkittikasem

First Read Tech talks to the director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations, and acting Algorithms Management and Policy Officer for the city.
February 4, 2020

In a new recurring feature, First Read Tech will be talking to leaders in government and technology about the intersection of the two fields and how New York can lead through innovation. This week’s installment features Jeff Thamkittikasem, director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations, and acting Algorithms Management and Policy Officer for the city. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order late last year creating the Algorithms Management and Policy Officer, a role intended to help guide city agencies’ use of automated decisions systems and bring public transparency to how algorithmic tools are being used. As acting AMPO, what’s your elevator pitch for this position?

The world that government exists in right now is far different than five or 10 years ago. Everyone’s got smartphones, they’ve got a lot of data. We need a central government person or organization that is focused on providing guidelines to every city agency on how they should review and use their algorithmic systems. 

You’re in the middle of the search process for the first AMPO right now. Who is the ideal candidate?

We would love a person who does have that kind of ability to understand technology and algorithms but also understands what it means to serve New Yorkers. Whether that’s a government background or nonprofit background, we do want the applicability. We want someone who will help agencies figure out how best to use algorithms, how best to review them – all with a focus on helping New Yorkers.

The creation of the AMPO role came out of a task force on automated decision systems that has been criticized for not producing a list of the algorithmic tools currently in use by city agencies. Is that something that the AMPO – or the committees and support roles within the office – will accomplish?

We’re really excited about what came out of the task force, personally and as a larger group, and I think that this AMPO is supposed to do that. We wanted to be responsible about how we were moving this forward. We didn’t want it to be a one-time set of recommendations, but really something focused on building something long term that really reflected modern government. So the AMPO will provide criteria, they will provide guidance, and they will work with the agencies to develop their own internal capabilities and capacity to kind of get the job done. 

Will they produce a public report of what automated decision systems are currently in use?

What they’re going to do is focus on providing those criteria so the agencies can do their own inventory.

And the agencies would then make that public?

Yeah. And the AMPO has responsibilities within the executive order to publish a report every other year, and I think that is going to be an iterative process. No one list of automated decision systems in use exists, no one list will ever really exist. I think it will kind of develop over time.

For the rest of today's tech news, head over to First Read Tech.

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.
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