Developing criteria for algorithmic systems designed in the public interest

The increasing use of algorithmic systems confronts society with opportunities, but also risks. We are convinced that the design of algorithmic systems must therefore be governed by a certain framework. Together with the Bertelsmann Stiftung (Bertelsmann Foundation), we have set ourselves the task of developing one.

The chal­lenge 

Every day, algo­rith­mic sys­tems make deci­sions for and about us, for exam­ple by fil­ter­ing job appli­ca­tions and diag­nos­ing ill­ness­es, ana­lyz­ing cred­it­wor­thi­ness or sug­gest­ing patrols to the police. In other words, they are increas­ing­ly used in areas that have a direct or indi­rect, but always sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on soci­ety or the lives of peo­ple in it — one that goes far beyond the reach of mere pock­et cal­cu­la­tors. This is why we as a soci­ety must dis­cuss how the oppor­tu­ni­ties offered to all of us by use of this tech­nol­o­gy can be made to out­weigh the risks. 

Our approach 

Algo­rith­mic sys­tems are not only designed by pro­gram­mers; many oth­ers, from exec­u­tives to users, have a role in shap­ing them. There­fore, we espe­cial­ly value a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry approach, with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from sci­ence and research, from com­pa­nies and asso­ci­a­tions, civil soci­ety and NGOs, as well as from pol­i­tics and administration.

The result

After an open, par­tic­i­pa­to­ry and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary process (in which more than 400 peo­ple have taken part), numer­ous work­shops and con­sul­ta­tions, and a large sur­vey, nine so-called Algo.rules were for­mu­lat­ed. These are a cat­a­logue of for­mal cri­te­ria that, if adhered to, are designed to facil­i­tate the social­ly ben­e­fi­cial design and test­ing of algo­rith­mic sys­tems. Our pur­pose is to lay a foun­da­tion for eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions as well as for the imple­men­ta­tion and enforce­ment of legal stan­dards in this field. 

To make the Algo.Rules usable in every­day work, we have con­cretized them in the next step. We offer prac­ti­cal help, which is aimed direct­ly at the design­ers, but also at users of algo­rith­mic systems.

A prac­ti­cal guide sup­ports devel­op­ers and their man­agers in the oper­a­tional­i­sa­tion of Algo.Rules in their every­day work.

The pracit­i­cal guide can be found here.

Fur­ther infor­ma­tion is avail­able on the Algo.Rules web­site.


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