Towards Human-Centric Algorithmic Governance

Blog by Zeynep Engin: “It is no longer news to say that the capabilities afforded by Data Science, AI and their associated technologies (such as Digital Twins, Smart Cities, Ledger Systems and other platforms) are poised to revolutionise governance, radically transforming the way democratic processes work, citizen services are provided, and justice is delivered. Emerging applications range from the way election campaigns are run and how crises at population level are managed (e.g. pandemics) to everyday operations like simple parking enforcement and traffic management, and to decisions at critical individual junctures, such as hiring or sentencing decisions. What it means to be a ‘human’ is also a hot topic for both scholarly and everyday discussions, since our societal interactions and values are also shifting fast in an increasingly digital and data-driven world.

As a millennial who grew up in a ‘developing’ economy in the ’90s and later established a cross-sector career in a ‘developed’ economy in the fields of data for policy and algorithmic governance, I believe I can credibly claim a pertinent, hands-on experience of the transformation from a fully analogue world into a largely digital one. I started off trying hard to find sufficient printed information to refer to in my term papers at secondary school, gradually adapting to trying hard to extract useful information amongst practically unlimited resources available online today. The world has become a lot more connected: communities are formed online, goods and services customised to individual tastes and preferences, work and education are increasingly hybrid, reducing dependency on physical environment, geography and time zones. Despite all these developments in nearly every aspect of our lives, one thing that has persisted in the face of this change is the nature of collective decision-making, particularly at the civic/governmental level. It still comprises the same election cycles with more or less similar political incentives and working practices, and the same type of politicians, bureaucracies, hierarchies and networks making and executing important (and often suboptimal) decisions on behalf of the public. Unelected private sector stakeholders in the meantime are quick to fill the growing gap — they increasingly make policies that affect large populations and define the public discourse, to primarily maximise their profit behind their IP protection walls…(More)”.