tion and requires explanation of automated decisions involving people.
However, widespread use of ADM
will raise additional ethical, eco-
nomic, and legal issues. Early atten-
tion to these questions is central to
formulating regulation for autono-
mous vehicles. The German Ministry
for Transport and Digital Infrastruc-
ture created an Ethics Commission,
which identified 20 key principles to
govern ethical and privacy concerns
in automated driving.a
To raise these concerns more broadly,
a group assembled by Informatics Eu-
rope and EUACM, the policy committee
of the ACM Europe Council, recently
produced a report entitled “When Com-
puters Decide.”b The white paper makes
10 recommendations to policy leaders:
1. Establish means, measures, and
standards to assure ADM systems are fair.
2. Ensure ethics remain at the forefront of, and integral to, ADM development and deployment.
3. Promote value-sensitive ADM
4. Define clear legal responsibilities for ADM’s use and impacts.
5. Ensure the economic consequences of ADM adoption are fully
6. Mandate that all privacy and
data acquisition practices of ADM deployers be clearly disclosed to all users
of such systems.
7. Increase public funding for noncommercial ADM-related research significantly.
8. Foster ADM-related technical
education at the university level.
DISDAIN FOR REGULATION is pervasive throughout he tech industry. In the case of automated deci- sion making, this attitude
is mistaken. Early engagement with
governments and regulators could
both smooth the path of adoption for
systems built on machine learning,
minimize the consequences of inevitable failures, increase public trust in
these systems, and possibly avert the
imposition of debilitating rules.
Exponential growth in the sophistication and applications of machine
learning is in the process of automating wholly or partially many tasks
previously performed only by humans. This technology of automated
decision making (ADM) promises
many benefits, including reducing
tedious labor as well as improving the
appropriateness and acceptability of
decisions and actions. The technology also will open new markets for
innovative and profitable businesses,
such as self-driving vehicles and automated services.
At the same time, however, the
widespread adoption of ADM systems
will be economically disruptive and
will raise new and complex societal
challenges, such as worker displacement; autonomous accidents; and,
perhaps most fundamentally, confusion and debate over what it means to
From a European perspective, this
is a strong argument for governments
to take a more active role in regulating the use of ADM. The European
Union has already started to grapple
with privacy concerns through the
General Data Protection Regulation
(GDPR), which regulates data protec-
9. Complement technical education with comparable social education.
10. Expand the public’s awareness
and understanding of ADM and its
Systems built on an immature and
rapidly evolving technology such as
machine learning will have spectacular successes and dismaying failures. Especially when the technology is used in applications that affect
the safety and livelihood of many
people, these systems should be developed and deployed with special
care. Society must set clear parameters for what uses are acceptable,
how the systems should be developed, how inevitable trade-offs and
conflicts will be adjudicated, and
who is legally responsible for these
systems and their failures.
Automated decision making is not
just a scientific challenge; it is simultaneously a political, economic,
technological, cultural, educational,
and even philosophical challenge.
Because these aspects are interdependent, it is inappropriate to focus on any one feature of the much
larger picture. The computing professions and technology industries,
which together are driving these advances forward, have an obligation
to start a conversation among all
affected disciplines and institutions whose expertise is relevant and
required to fully understand these
Now is the time to formulate appropriately nuanced, comprehensive,
and ethical plans for humans and our
societies to thrive when computers
James Larus, a professor and Dean of the School of
Computer and Communication Sciences at EPFL, is on the
board of Informatics Europe.
Chris Hankin, chair of ACM Europe Council, is co-director
of the Institute for Security Science and Technology
and a professor of computing science at Imperial
Copyright held by authors.
DOI: 10.1145/3231715 James Larus and Chris Hankin
informatics europe and acm europe council