Algo.Rules – How do we get the ethics into the code?
Algorithmic systems are being implemented in a growing number of areas and are being used to make decisions that have a profound impact on our lives. It is up to us to ensure that these systems are designed for the benefit of society. We believe that the design and use of algorithmic systems must follow certain rules, in order for them to strengthen and not undermine our individual and collective freedoms and rights that comprise human rights. Together with the iRights.Lab we have therefore developed the Algo.Rules through a comprehensive participatory process. They are a set of rules that can help embed ethical norms into code.
Algorithmic systems help doctors diagnose diseases and develop treatment plans. They tell police officers where to patrol. They decide who is going to be invited to the job interview. It is time to take a close look at the societal consequences of algorithmic decision-making and ask ourselves how we can ensure that the technology is used to serve society. The nine Algo.Rules form a catalogue of formal criteria for enabling the socially beneficial design and oversight of algorithmic systems. They do not contain moral norms, but rather form the basis for ethical discussions and for the implementation and enforcement of existing legal frameworks. They are therefore to a certain degree universal, and applicable within a variety of cultural contexts.
The effects of algorithmic systems are influenced not only through their programming codes, but also by their objectives, training data, organizational context and the ways in which a system’s results are presented, interpreted and applied. Therefore, the Algo.Rules address everyone who signficantly influences the creation, development, programming, implementation or the effects of an algorithmic system, as well as everyone who has commissioned the development or integration of such a system. We purposefully do not limit the scope of our attention to programmers.
The Algo.Rules do not apply to all algorithmic systems, but only to those with a significant impact on people’s lives or on society. The navigation system in the car or the spell checking programm are based on algorithms as well. They do however not need the same level of control as systems used in areas such as education or medicine.
The Algo.Rules were developed through a interdisciplinary participatory process
We have had the quality criteria of a binding code of professional ethics, such as the Hippocratic Oath and the Press Code, analyzed. Findings show that participatory approaches to development are one of the most important factors of success with such codes. Our work therefore focuses on developing the rules together with a large number and diverse group of individuals and organizations who, as part of an open and dynamic process, contribute their knowledge. The Algo.Rules criteria are a joint effort, since they are the result of a comprehensive participatory process: They have been draftet through expert-workshops, consultations via phone and a public online survey. Overall 400 people from different sectors and disciplines have participated in the development process.
The Algo.Rules are an important first step towards the development and use of algorithmic systems that serve society. But we don’t stop with the publication of the rules. In fact, the real work has just begun. Aside from the effort to address a diverse and wide-ranging target group, the present challenge facing the Algo.Rules rests in their actual implementation. As a next step, we will thus refine the Algo.Rules further for specific target groups. In our view, this is key for making the rules practically applicable.
We are therefore looking for developers and decision-makers as well as institutions and companies with an interest in such rules. You are invited to join us in developing the Algo.Rules further and to adopt them, adapt them, expand them and, above all, explore opportunities to apply them in practice.
More information on the Algo.Rules can be found on the Algo.Rules website or on Twitter under the #algorules Hashtag.