Although “garbage in, garbage out” has been a software truism for more than half a century, programmers can’t seem to avoid the first part — as researchers discovered when they investigated an algorithm widely used by hospitals to decide which patients get access to extra health care services. The artificial intelligence software equated health care spending with health, and it had a disturbing result: It routinely let healthier white patients into the programs ahead of black patients who were sicker and needed them more.

It was one of the clearest demonstrations yet that some, and perhaps many, of the algorithms that guide the health care given to tens of millions of Americans unintentionally replicate the racial blind spots and even biases of their developers.

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