Algorithms increasingly make decisions for and about people, thus playing a determining role in social participation. Rules are needed to ensure that digitalization is able to create more opportunities for everyone. To this end, the Bertelsmann Foundation and iRights.Lab have developed the Algo.Rules: guidelines which seek to anchor ethical standards in programming code.
The decisions made by algorithmic systems significantly impact our lives. The Bertelsmann Foundation and the independent think tank iRights.Lab, through a broad, participative process, have thus formulated and presented a set of rules for the development of algorithmic systems. These so-called “Algo.Rules” are a set of formal criteria that seek to enable and facilitate the design of algorithmic systems in a way that is beneficial to society. These rules lay the groundwork for meaningful ethical considerations and for the implementation and enforcement of a working legal framework in the age of algorithms. They present criteria that should already be taken into account as systems are being developed and that are thus implemented “by design.” The Algo.Rules are directed at anyone who has a significant influence on the creation, development, and application of algorithmic systems. For Jörg Dräger, CEO of the Bertelsmann Foundation, the need for a good set of rules for algorithms is beyond doubt: “We must carry existing social norms with us into the digital age. We thus need rules for all those who work with, design or apply algorithms.”
Algorithmic systems are employed in an ever-growing number of areas. With their help, decisions are made that have a significant impact on our lives. They entail both opportunities and risks. It is up to us to work together to ensure that algorithmic systems are designed for the benefit of society. They should strengthen, rather that curtail, the individual and collective freedoms and rights that are expressed and understood as inalienable human rights. Regulations designed to protect these standards must remain enforceable. To achieve this, we have developed the Algo.Rules together with experts and interested members of the public.
The criteria are the result of an extensive development and participation process: they were formulated in workshops with experts, through telephone interviews, and on the basis of a large-scale online survey. In total, about 400 people from various sections of society and a broad array of scientific disciplines took part. According to Philipp Otto, director of the independent think tank iRights.lab, “The broad participatory process that went into developing the Algo.Rules was inspiring and stimulating. We recognized very quickly the enormous need for criteria like those we are now presenting, a set of rules that has been desperately missing.”
One of the experts involved is Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, former Federal Minister of Justice: “The Algo.Rules are an example of how solutions can emerge from society and thus independently of the political and legislative process. We hope to render them binding and are working towards implementing and further developing the points that have emerged. We are demonstrating how to usefully apply legal regulations and normative values to algorithmic systems. Ultimately, neither politics, nor business, nor society alone can ensure that an ethical and legal framework is adhered to. This depends on the interaction of all actors. The Algo.Rules are a very concrete result of this insight, and they represent something that has never been done before.”
The Algo.Rules are an important first step, a novel attempt to design algorithmic systems in the public interest. In the next phase of the project, Bertelsmann Foundation and iRights.Lab will specify the rules for different target groups – programmers and managers in the private sector – and develop implementation strategies. Here too, according to Dräger, “We cannot approach the task of elaborating the details of the Algo.Rules alone. We thus call on organizations and individuals who develop and implement algorithmic systems to participate!”
The press release, including contacts, can be found here as a PDF file.