UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee Explores Use of Algorithms in Decision Making

By Renee Dopplick, ACM Director of Public Policy
April 30, 2017

The UK-based Royal Statistical Society expressed support for the ACM U.S. Public Policy Council Statement on Algorithmic Transparency and Accountability in its recent input to the UK Parliament’s House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry into the use of algorithmic tools for data-informed decisions. The Science and Technology Committee launched the inquiry in February 2017 to explore the use of algorithms in public and business decision making. The Committee is studying whether and how algorithms might help eliminate, introduce, or amplify biases or discrimination and how transparency may be fostered while protecting copyright, patents, data sensitivity, and individual privacy.

Algorithms, the set of instructions computers employ to carry out a task, influence almost every aspect of society. The explosive growth of data collection, coupled with increasingly sophisticated algorithms, has resulted in a significant increase in automated decision-making, as well as a greater reliance on algorithms in human decision-making. Industry forecasters believe software programs incorporating automated decision-making will only increase in the coming years as artificial intelligence becomes more mainstream. One of the major challenges of this emerging reality is to ensure that algorithms do not reinforce harmful and/or unfair biases.

The goals of the Statement on Algorithmic Transparency and Accountability include: providing context for what algorithms are, how they make decisions, and the technical challenges and opportunities to prevent and mitigate potential harmful bias. The Statement was designed to be consistent with ACM’s Code of Ethics. The effort was initiated by USACM’s Algorithmic Accountability Working Group led by Simson Garfinkel, Jonathan M. Smith, and Jeanna Matthews.

About the ACM U.S. Public Policy Council

The ACM U.S. Public Policy Council (USACM) serves as the focal point for ACM’s interaction with the U.S. government on U.S. public policies related to information technology. The membership of the ACM U.S. Public Policy Council is comprised of computer scientists, educators, researchers, and other technology professionals. ACM U.S. Public Policy Council comments and statements represent the views of the Council and do not necessarily represent the views of the Association.

About the ACM Europe Council Policy Committee

The ACM Europe Council Policy Committee (EUACM) is a standing committee of ACM Europe. It serves as the focal point for ACM’s interactions with governmental bodies in Europe, the computing community, and the public in matters of European public policy related to computing and technology. ACM Europe Policy Committee statements represent the views of the Committee and do not necessarily represent the views of the Association.