Social Issues in Automated Decision-Making: Draft Version 1.0

Christopher O'Neill, Jathan Sadowski, Mark Andrejevic, Kelly Lewis, Georgia van toon, Ramon Lobato, Daniel Binns, Ash Watson, Vaughan Wozniak- O'Connor

Research output: Book/ReportOther ReportOtherpeer-review


The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S) is committed to providing research that supports the responsible, ethical, and inclusive use of automated systems. In this endeavour, it necessarily engages directly with the social issues raised by the development and deployment of these decision-making systems in a range of spheres of practice. The Centre’s focus encompasses a broad range of applications across the realms of health, social services, news and media, and mobilities and transport – and it brings together experts working on these areas in a variety of disciplinary traditions.
One of the key challenges for such a project is that automated decision-making (ADM) manifests differently across social contexts and different fields of research or critical inquiry. At the same time, it is possible to speak of ‘automation’ as a broader sociotechnical process with shared characteristics and indeed a long historical arc. As a way of contextualising this study, this report will seek to map and to synthesise the key issues pertaining to ADM within each stream of the project, in order to understand what is shared and what is unique to each field’s negotiation of the technology.
We define ‘social issues’ broadly in terms of the concerns raised by the consequences of ADM for the life chances and circumstances of individuals situated within social relations structured by contemporary and historical forms of power. ADM systems have the potential to greatly improve the overall quality of life in society, but they may also exacerbate social, political, and economic inequality. The role they play in reinforcing, reproducing, and reconfiguring power relations is, as recent events demonstrate, a key concern with respect to the deployment of automated decision making systems. When such systems are used to decide how benefits, resources, services, or information are allocated in society, they bear directly on the character and quality of life in that society. We are interested in both the potential benefits of the deployment of the technology and the potential harms. We do not treat such systems in the abstract, but are centrally concerned with the social, political, and economic relations in which they are embedded and which shape their deployment. A key question for the ADM+S Centre, in other words, is not just how best to design and deploy the technology, but what economic and political arrangements are most compatible with their fair, ethical, responsible, and democratic use.
This document marks the first stage of our research. It brings together material collected from discussions with leaders in the Centre’s focus areas and feedback from an international collection of experts in their respective domains. For each focus area we followed a similar methodology for canvassing key social issues. We started by discussing key social issues with Focus Area leaders and their teams. We then canvassed the academic literature, reports by industry groups and relevant independent organisations, and media coverage. For each area, we sought to identify key applications of ADM and the possible social benefits and harms with which they are associated. We also sought to identify continuities in these social issues both within and across the Centre’s main Focus Areas.
As we finished preliminary drafts for each of the focus areas, we held a ‘launch’ meeting with experts in the field to get feedback, which we then incorporated into subsequent revisions. In 2022-2023, we will hold a series of writing workshops in the focus areas to invite Centre participants and members to contribute to the next iteration of the report. The goal is both to build a comprehensive resource for the respective Focus Areas and to provide a forum for considering how concerns and possibilities span these specific areas.
This is neither a final nor a definitive report. It marks the first step in the Centre’s ongoing social issues mapping project.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society
Number of pages320
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2022

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