University of Birmingham > Talks@bham > Artificial Intelligence and Natural Computation seminars > The use and abuse of algorithmic decision-making systems: are computer scientists responsible?

The use and abuse of algorithmic decision-making systems: are computer scientists responsible?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Hector Basevi.

In this seminar, I explore how algorithmic decision-making systems are being used to shape the informational choice context in which individual decision-making occurs in order to channel attention and decision-making in directions preferred by the ‘choice architect’. By relying upon the use of ‘nudge’ – a particular form of choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives, these techniques constitute a ‘soft’ form of design-based control. But, unlike the static Nudges popularised by Thaler and Sunstein in their best-selling paperback Nudge) (2008, London: Penguin Books) such as placing the salad in front of the lasagne to encourage healthy eating, Big Data-driven nudges are extremely powerful and potent due to their networked, continuously updated, dynamic and pervasive nature – and hence I refer to them as ‘hypernudges. I argue that concerns about the legitimacy of these techniques are not satisfactorily resolved through reliance on individual notice and consent. I then examine how these techniques are being rolled out to the masses, by drawing on the concept of ‘algorithmic regulation. In this way, algorithmic decision-making systems can be used as powerful tools of persuasion and deception that are highly personalised yet scalable, enabling population-wide manipulation that may threaten the social foundations of democracy and individual freedom (or ‘political security’ to use the language of a recent report on AI risks).

My work therefore supports urgent and growing calls to devise and implement effective and legitimate mechanisms for securing ‘algorithmic accountability’, given that sophisticated socio-technical systems now animate and channel flows of information and power across society. Ultimately, we must reimagine and revise how we understand the way in which power is legitimated in contemporary hyper-connected democratic communities, and the legal, social, technical and political institutions through which that power is rendered transparent, exercised and held to account. Debates about the importance of ‘digital ethics, and the ethical obligations of computer scientists can be understood as responses to these concerns. The final part of my presentation therefore touches upon some of these debates, briefly reflecting upon the evolving professional and ethical status (and concomitant duties and responsibilities) of computer scientists.

This talk is part of the Artificial Intelligence and Natural Computation seminars series.

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