The Ethics of Algorithms:
from radical content to self-driving cars
Posté par : Nozha Boujemaa
A new kind of object, intermediator, gate-keeper and more has risen: the algorithm, or the code that operates increasingly ubiquitous computational objects and governs digital environments.
Computer chips and other forms of computation are not new; however, the increasing integration of digital connectivity in everyday life; the rise of massive amounts of datasets with personal, Jinancial and other kinds of information, and the rise in objects that have embedded chips have combined to create a new environment. This environment has been shaped by three developments: Advances especially in machine learning which allow artiJicial intelligence, with the help of big data, to perform tasks that were outside its reach just a few years ago; the rise of powerful platforms online such a Google, Amazon or Facebook that mediate social, political, personal and commercial interactions for billions of people and act as powerful gatekeepers; and the incorporation of algorithmic capabilities to other areas of decision-making ranging from hiring, Jiring and employment to healthcare, advertising, to Jinance and many others.
In sum, algorithms are increasingly used to make decisions for us, about us, or with us. They are progressively capable and pervasive. They are now either main or auxiliary tools, or even sole decision-makers, in areas of life that either did not exist more than a decade ago (what updates and news should you be shown from your social network, as in Facebook’s Newsfeed) to traditional areas where decisions used to be made primarily via human judgment, such as health-care and employment. SigniJicantly, algorithms are rapidly encroaching into “subjective” decision-making where there is no right or wrong answer, or even a good deJinition of what a “right” answer would look like without much transparency, accountability or even a mapping out of the issues. The speed of technological developments, corporate and government incentives have overtaken and overshadowed the urgently needed discussion of ethics and accountability of this new decision-making infrastructure.
The concerns that often bring us to thinking about algorithms are both historic and mundane: fairness, discrimination and power. Algorithms, and all complex computational systems, however, operate in ways that are a new category of objects compared with other institutions, persons or objects that have not been probed for such concerns.
In this report, we provide some of the key areas that require further probing, research and discussion, and should be taken up by policy-makers, civic actors, citizens and everyone concerned about the ethical, legal and policy frameworks in the 21st century which can nolonger be discussed without incorporating questions of computation. We will begin by deJining algorithms, in particular those that demand ethical scrutiny. We will proceed by illustrating three characteristics of algorithms with cases from a wide variety of Jields. In the Jinal section, we will address three regulatory responses that have discussed in response to the challenges posed by algorithmic decision-making.
This background paper is the result of a two-day conference on “The Ethics of Algorithms”, held in Berlin on March 9 and 10, 2015. The event was jointly organised by the Centre for Internet and Human Rights and the Technical University Berlin, with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The results presented in this paper will feed into the discussions at the Global Conference on Cyberspace, which will take place in the Hague on 16 and 17 April 2015.