Scholarship Reporter Newsletter

May 2017

The Ethics of Algorithms: Mapping the Debate

More and more often, algorithms mediate social processes, business transactions, governmental decisions, and how we perceive, understand, and interact among ourselves and with the environment. Gaps between the design and operation of algorithms and our understanding of their ethical implications can have severe consequences affecting individuals as well as groups and whole societies. This paper attempts to clarify the ethical importance of algorithmic mediation by: 1) providing a prescriptive map to organize the debate; 2) reviewing the current discussion of ethical aspects of algorithms; and 3) assessing the available literature in order to identify areas requiring further work to develop the ethics of algorithms.

Abstract: In information societies, operations, decisions and choices previously left to humans are increasingly delegated to algorithms, which may advise, if not decide, about how data should be interpreted and what actions should be taken as a result. More and more often, algorithms mediate social processes, business transactions, governmental decisions, and how we perceive, understand, and interact among ourselves and with the environment. Gaps between the design and operation of algorithms and our understanding of their ethical implications can have severe consequences affecting individuals as well as groups and whole societies. This paper makes three contributions to clarify the ethical importance of algorithmic mediation. It provides a prescriptive map to organise the debate. It reviews the current discussion of ethical aspects of algorithms. And it assesses the available literature in order to identify areas requiring further work to develop the ethics of algorithms.

"The Ethics of Algorithms: Mapping the Debate" by B. Mittelstadt, P. Allo, M. Taddeo, S. Wachter, L. Floridi Big Data & Society, Vol. 3(2), DOI: 10.1177/2053951716679679, 2016 (November 2016)