The Urgent Need for Robust Trust: Cultivating an environment in which algorithmic decision-making serves society

We welcome the European Commission’s effort to harmonize AI regulation and create an ecosystem in which algorithmic decision-making systems work for people and become a force for good in society. In this paper we want to share our findings from the “Ethics of Algorithms project” as part of the consultation on the “White Paper on Artificial Intelligence – A European approach to excellence and  trust.”

Algorithmic decision-making (ADM) systems are having a profound impact on society. The use of ADM systems has the capacity to unlock enormous societal, political, economic and cultural potential. However, if not used in the right way, such systems could also exacerbate existing inequities or trigger unexpected new ethical issues with large-scale impact. In recent years, the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s “Ethics of Algorithms” project has contributed to the debate on the increased use of so-called AI and other ADM processes. The project conducts research on these issues and promotes dialogue on the societal impact of ADM technology and regulatory needs; in so doing, it seeks levers able to shape the sociopolitical and economic environment in such a way as to optimize algorithmic decision-making’s potential for social good, while mitigating its risks.

We believe that this issue cannot be addressed exclusively on a national level. We therefore welcome the European Commission’s efforts to establish a single regulatory approach that guarantees a level playing field for all vendors, regardless of their country of origin or the member state in which the system is operating, and of whether the system is being operated from within or outside the EU, or involves decisions made regarding EU citizens. It seems essential for EU citizens and for the Digital Single Market policy to harmonize data-subjects’ rights at the European level. This includes aspects such as the right to human intervention, the right to receive an explanation of a decision, and the right to challenge or contest a decision. Our recommendations 1-3 comment on the nature and scope of this endeavor.

Discussions addressing the regulation of ADM systems often suggest that we are starting with a clean slate. In reality, existing legislation needs to be interpreted in a new light, and underlying principles have to be rearticulated and applied to new contexts. Even though this may take significant effort and expertise, it is necessary in order to avoid undercutting and delegitimizing existing regulations, and to properly focus the current discussions. Recommendations 4-7 therefore analyze relevant existing regulations while highlighting their deficiencies and necessary revisions.

The measures taken to ensure that ADM serves society must go beyond the establishment of new legal requirements and the revision of existing laws. We need a number of interlinked policy approaches that focus on the organizations involved in the development and deployment of AI, as well as on the mechanisms through which they interact. The EU should also help strengthen, promote and financially support approaches to ADM that demonstrate an exemplary best-practice implementation of the technology. Recommendations 8-12 thus present necessary policy measures that go beyond a revision of the legal framework.

Drawing on the findings of our research, we suggest twelve steps for the creation of a European approach to AI, under which technology would work for people and become a force for good in society.