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Irene Lo: How math makes markets fairer

An expert in algorithms discusses how the changing meaning of the word “market” is being leveraged to achieve important social goals.

aerial view of San Francisco city buildings and neighborhoods

Lo is helping San Francisco create an algorithm to assign kids more fairly to public schools across economic and other boundaries. | Unsplash/Alex

Engineer Irene Lo studies markets, but not traditional marketplaces based in cash.

Instead, she studies markets for goods/resources that place a high value on social goods like diversity, fairness and equity.

Thus, Lo came to help San Francisco create an algorithm to assign kids more fairly to public schools across geographic, social, racial and economic boundaries. As it turns out, math is just the first step. The most challenging part was getting families to trust in the system, begetting a multi-year community engagement effort.

Lo is now turning her attention to other markets with social impact, like her work on the system that places medical students in residency programs across the country or one trying to make the palm oil supply chain fairer for farmers.

Listen in as Irene Lo explains the changing face of markets to host Russ Altman in this episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everythingpodcast. Listen and subscribe here.