5 min read

AlgorithmWatch, non-profit research, and advocacy organization released its report titled ‘Automating Society: Taking Stock of Automated Decision-Making in the EU’, in cooperation with Bertelsmann Stiftung ( a private operating foundation) supported by the Open Society Foundations, yesterday. The report includes findings compiled from 12 EU member states and the level of the EU surrounding the development and application of automated decision-making systems in all the countries.

The report is based upon these findings and makes certain recommendations for policymakers in the EU and the Member States parliaments, the EU Commission, national governments, researchers, civil society organizations, and the private sector (companies and business associations).

Let’s have a look at some of the key recommendations mentioned in the report.

Focus on the application of ADMs that impact society

The report states that given the popularity of ‘ Artificial Intelligence’ right now, it is important to understand the real current challenges and impact of this tech on our societies. It gives an example of how ‘Predictive analytics’ that is used for determining the maintenance issues on production lines for yogurt, should not be the real concern rather predictive analytics used for tracking human behavior is where the real focus should be.


The report states that there is a need for these systems to be democratically controlled in our society using a combination of regulatory tools, oversight mechanisms, and technology.

Automated decision-making systems aren’t just a technology

The report mentions that considering automated decision-making systems as just a technology while not considering it as a whole shift the debate surrounding questions of accuracy, and data quality. All parts of the framework should be considered while discussing the pros and cons of using a specific ADM application.

What this means is that more questions should be asked around:

  • What data does the system use?
  • Is the use of that data legal?
  • what decision-making model is applied to the data?
  • Is there an issue of bias?
  • why do governments even use specific ADM systems?
  • Is automation being used as an option to save money?

Empower citizens to adapt to new challenges

As per the report, more focus should be put on enhancing citizens’ expertise to help them better determine the consequences of automated decision making. An example presented in the report is that of an English online course called “Elements of Artificial Intelligence” created to support the goal of helping Finnish people understand the challenges in ADM. The course was developed as a private-public partnership but has now become an integral part of the Finnish AI programme.

This free course teaches citizens about basic concepts and applications of AI and machine learning with about 100,000 Finns enrolled in the course.

Empower public administration to adapt to new challenges

Just like empowering citizens is important, there’s also a need to empower the Public administration to ensure a high level of expertise inside its own institutions. This can help them either develop new systems or to oversee outsourced development.

The report recommends creating public research institutions in cooperation with universities or public research centers to teach, train, and advise civil servants. Moreover, these institutions should also be created at the EU level to help the member states.

Strengthen civil society’s involvement in ADM

The report states that there is a lack of civil society engagement and expertise in the field of automated decision making even in some large Member States. As per the report, civil society organizations should assess the consequences of ADM as a specific and relevant policy field in their countries and strategies to address these challenges.  Also, grant-making organizations should develop funding calls and facilitate networking opportunities, along with governments making public funds available to civil society interventions.

Don’t look at only data protection for regulatory ideas

The report mentions how Article 22 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been under a lot of controversies. According to Article 22, Automated individual decision-making, including profiling,the data subject shall have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her”.

Many people have developed a consensus around it, saying that it’s limited and that the use cases of ADM systems cannot be regulated by data protection. It talks about the importance of discussion around developing governance tools and states that stakeholders should look at creative applications of existing regulatory frameworks such as equal-pay regulation. This would further help them address new challenges such as algorithmically controlled platform work (Gig Economy) and explore the new avenues for regulation of the effects of ADM.

Need for a wide range of stakeholders (including civil liberty firms) to develop criteria for good design processes and audits

The report mentions that on surveying some of the countries, they found out that governments claim that their strategies involve civil society stakeholders just to bring “diverse voices” to the table.

But, the term civil society is not well defined and includes academia, groups of computer scientists or lawyers, think tanks, etc. This leads to important viewpoints getting missed since governments use this broad definition to show that ‘civil society’ is included despite them not being a part of the conversation. This is why it is critical that the organizations focused on rights be included in the debate.

For more coverage, check out the official AlgorithmWatch report.

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