In the evolving algorithmic society, key decisions are not made by humans alone. Datafication, sophisticated algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) mean that Algorithmic Decision Systems (ADS) now complement and in part replace human decision-making. While outsourcing decision-making to machines may yield better decisions and faster and more efficient services, it transforms our established routines, checks and balances, and institutions of decision-making, leading to new challenges for the realization of public values and unprecedented shifts in decision-making power. In light of the disruptive power of ADS and its implications for society, policymakers and academics alike have been pushing for ‘human-
centric’ and value-sensitive ADS technology. But realizing public values in the algorithmic society requires more than technological prowess. Realizing public values in ADS requires a deeper understanding of the social, cultural, political, and economic realities of ADS; how technology, institutions, human actors, and public values interact; and the effects this has on people and society.
As AI and ADS transform society, extant research agendas leave pressing questions about the societal embedding of ADS unanswered. The Gravitation Program Public Values in the Algorithmic Society (algosoc) is a response to the urgent need for an informed societal perspective on automated decision-making. Grounded in a deep understanding of the systemic changes that ADS entail for core public institutions, for society, and for how public values are realized, algosoc will develop solutions for the design of governance frameworks needed to complement technology-driven initiatives in the algorithmic society.
The overarching research question for our program is: How do we realize public values in the algorithmic society?
Taking fundamental rights and democratic procedural values as a starting point, the algosoc program will combine conceptual and empirical approaches to explore how these and other public values evolve under the impact of ADS, and where new values emerge. A key hypothesis that underlies our program is that public values are not a ready-made list of requirements; they are the result of negotiations between private and public actors, technological systems and human operators and realising public values also depends on the social realities in which these systems operate. This is why the algosoc program will not only explore the theoretical underpinnings of public values, but how these values translate into institutional design, legal frameworks, and individual or societal effects.
The research program is therefore organized around four central research questions:
1. Ecology: How are patterns of institutional and individual decision-making power shifting in the algorithmic society?
2. Values: How do these changing patterns affect the way core values are conceptualized and articulated?
3. Effects: What are the effects of ADS on the realization of public values for individuals and society?
4. Governance: How can responsibility for public values be organized, and decision-making power regulated, in the algorithmic society?
To pursue these questions, our research program spans three sectors in society—justice, health, and media. Led by interdisciplinary teams, the work packages will draw on a wide variety of methods from the social sciences, the humanities, and computer science, and will actively involve a range of societal partners who will provide cases, data, and ADS users.
algosoc will add a socio-technical perspective on ADS that is rooted in a deep understanding of how values are negotiated between stakeholders, embedded in organisational practices and regulated through laws and ethical guidelines. This understanding will help to inform the design of technologies, institutions and governance frameworks alike
About the consortium
In algosoc, 6 leading scholars from 5 Dutch universities are joining forces. Scientific director Natali Helberger (AI and Information Law) and vice scientific director Claes de Vreese (AI and Communication Science) are both Distinguished University Professors at the University of Amsterdam. Renowned scholars in their respective fields, both are actively involved in Netherlands AI Coalition and together founded the AI, Media & Democracy Lab. José van Dijck is Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University (University of Utrecht), former president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and eminent media scholar with expertise in media technology, digital platforms, and governance. Corien Prins is professor of law and information at Tilburg University and chairs the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR). Her pioneering work in the intersection of law and technology is internationally renowned; her current work focuses on the new regulatory challenges posed by advances in AI. Moniek Buijzen is professor of communication and behavioral change at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Internationally re-nowned for her work on digital communication technology’s impact on well-being, she is the founder of Bitescience.com and chairs the interdisciplinary expert practice AI, Digital Communication and Behavioural Change at the Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics. Seda Gürses is associate professor in the Department of Multi-Actor Systems, Faculty of Technology Policy and Management, TU Delft. A recipient of the prestigious FWO fellowship of the Research Foundation—Flanders and a previous fellow at Princeton University, her work focuses on privacy enhancing and protective optimization technologies, privacy engineering, and questions around software infrastructures, social justice, and political economy as they intersect with computer science.
Other participants in the algosoc consortium include eminent scholars in AI and computer science (e.g. Catholijn Jonker, Maarten de Rijke, Maurits Kaptein), law (e.g. Janneke Gerards, Iris van Domselaar, Joris van Hoboken), communication (e.g. Julia van Weert, Theo Araujo, Esther Rozendaal), public health management (Antoinette de Bont), public administration (Albert Meijer), ethics (e.g. Beate Roessler), sociology (Daniel Oberski, Linnet Taylor) and economics (Ting Li, Koen Frenken). They include fellows of the Royal Academy, European Research Council and Dutch Research Council grant laureates, and scholars with extensive expertise and proven track records in interdisciplinary research, all based at in-ternationally recognized institutions in their respective fields.