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Accountability in Algorithms: Ethical and Legal Perspectives

Brent Mittelstadt

The proliferation of algorithms and AI systems is accelerating across the public (e.g. healthcare and criminal justice) and the private (e.g. finance and insurance) sectors. Automated decision-making systems are being more and more frequently used to make assessments or predictions about people. This new trend could lead to less biased and more accurate decisions, but also lead to inadvertent discrimination and privacy violations. Further, the decision-making process and effects of algorithmic decisions are often unclear, owing to the inherent opacity and inaccessibility of systems. There is increasing effort from the public and the private sectors to make these technologies more explainable and ultimately accountable. This talk will first consider the ethical challenges facing complex algorithmic systems concerning opacity, discrimination, group privacy, and moral responsibility for failures and harms. Ethical considerations often ground legal and regulatory action; recognising this, the second half of the talk will examine how these challenges are being addressed in European and American regulation, in particular concerning new provisions the European General Data Protection Regulation that pressures designers and users to explain how complex algorithmic systems function.

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