In the classic scene from “The American President,” Michael Douglas notes that the way you win elections is by making you afraid of something and telling you who is to blame for it. That’s not just how you win elections; it’s how you get people to read the articles on your news site. Why else would a site say that the collection industry’s use of artificial intelligence is a “dystopian new way to make borrowers pay up, replicating the debt system’s long history of racial bias”? Does that sound like an article that is going to show you both sides of an issue?
Nobody involved in the debt collection will claim that the industry hasn’t had a dark moment or two in its history, but to infer that using tools like artificial intelligence are “punishing those who are already struggling,” is just plain wrong.
What really bothers me about articles like this is that they love pointing out everything they think is wrong with a particular issue or topic, but present absolutely no solutions for what they think should be done instead, leaving the reader to infer that there are no positive outcomes that are possible. This article doesn’t say whether or not artificial intelligence should be used in debt collection, specifically, or banking, broadly. It doesn’t say whether collectors should go back to making housecalls. In fact, if you read the article from top to bottom, you’d probably agree that the article seems to be against the notion of debt collecting in the first place. The article notes that people are spending at record levels, but doesn’t place any of the responsibility on consumers for their debt ending up in a collection agency.
Just as easily as this article can point out all the negative possibilities of using artificial intelligence when collecting debts, it can point out the positive aspects, too. Like making sure people aren’t called excessively and harassed, or making sure that all the disclosures are made and that consumers are aware of their rights, or figuring out the best possible payment arrangement that makes sense for both sides.
It’s easy to point at debt collectors as the enemy and to point at artificial intelligence and say it’s going to help collectors take advantage of consumers, because that is how you generate pageviews. It’s not as sexy or as easy to dig in and really understand how something works, and then write about that.