University of Twente Student Theses


Ethics of Algorithms

Slot, M.J. (2016) Ethics of Algorithms.

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Abstract:Present day society is heavily shaped and influenced by the workings of algorithms on multiple levels. Near-ubiquitous in any dataprocessing operation, algorithms play an important role in diverse topics spanning virtually everything that is happening on the internet and in wider computer sciences, governmental data collection and processing, financial markets, health-care and medicine development, educational settings, etc. A large number of activities taking place in these spheres would be impossible without the use of algorithms, and parts of them would never have been developed without the increase in automation, efficiency and scalability algorithms offer. At the same time, a tension has arisen between their prevalence and the level of understanding of their functioning. This thesis aims to provide insight into the effects of algorithmic applications, and unpack the ‘black box’ of their operations by questioning their status as neutral tools or technologies. This approach will be taken specifically by focusing on the ethical implications of algorithms, which will be evaluated along two lines that correspond to the ethical traditions of consequentialism and deontology. The first of these two lines, consequentialism, will elucidate how current applications of algorithms — including the aforementioned technologies and fields which they propel— have negative consequences. In this section, a theoretical framework outlining the structural ways in which practical algorithmic functioning produces adverse effects will be introduced, after which a number of examples will be given to illustrate the current state of affairs and concomitant real ethical issues. After this, a number of ways to counter these dynamics will be provided, notably geared towards measures to increase awareness, accountability, and balancing power-relations. The second line of exploring the ethical dimension of algorithms, deontology, will move the analysis away from practical concerns, towards evaluating the choice for accepting the required conditions for algorithmic processing fundamentally. That is, in order for algorithms to be capable of functioning properly, a certain lens or epistemological stance needs to be adopted, which in itself can be ethically contestable. The relevant conditions will be stated, constituting the theoretical component, after which again a number of examples will be introduced to illustrate this dimension’s pertinence. With this, the main aim of informing continued discussion on multiple levels to address the raised issues is achieved.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:02 science and culture in general, 08 philosophy, 54 computer science
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
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