Colloquium: Alan Rubel (University of Wisconsin-Madison)


Event Start Time: 1:15 pm

Event End Time: 2:30 pm

Location: UTA 5.522 (1616 Guadalupe St., 5th Floor)

Title: Algorithms, Bias, and Agency

Abstract: In Wisconsin v. Loomis (2016 WI 68), Eric Loomis pleaded guilty to crimes related to a drive-by shooting. The trial judge ordered a pre sentence investigation report ("PSI"), using a proprietary risk assessment tool called COMPAS. Although COMPAS is designed for a different task altogether, the judged used the PSI and COMPAS report to sentence Loomis in the maximum range. Despite the growing literature on algorithmic harm, discrimination, and inscrutability Loomis presents a puzzle. It is plausible that Loomis was not harmed, and that he received exactly the sentence he would have received without the PSI. Moreover, because Loomis is white, and the algorithm appears to disadvantage black defendants, he likely did not experience racial discrimination. Nonetheless, Loomis was wronged. This paper contends that the Loomis case, and many other algorithmic systems, engender wrongs that are neither harms nor discriminatory. More specifically, it argues that a complete picture of the moral salience of algorithmic systems requires understanding algorithms as they relate to issues of agency, autonomy, and respect for persons. This is for several reasons: They may generate decisions that reasonable people cannot follow; they may undermine epistemic agency; they may preclude the ability to appeal outcomes on the basis of reasons; they may violate claims of people to be treated as individuals; they may allow what the paper calls “agency laundering; and they may undermine an important facet of freedom, properly understood (i.e., quality of agency).

Bio: Alan Rubel (JD, PhD) is an associate professor in the Information School and director of the Center for Law, Society & Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also member of the faculty of Medical History and Bioethics, faculty affiliate of the UW Law School, and on the steering committee of the Holtz Center for Science, Technology, and Society. His research concerns information ethics and policy, including issues related to surveillance and privacy, intellectual freedom, and democratic processes. His current projects include issues of identity and privacy in the context of neurotechnologies and the effects of surveillance, mass data collection, and algorithmic decision making on agency and on democratic legitimacy.


1:15pm to 2:30pm


glqxz9283 sfy39587stf02 mnesdcuix8