Monday, June 27, 2022

Algorithmic Governance

 Back in 1868, James Clerk Maxwell wrote about governors - he was talking about systems that regulate things like the heat under a water tank in a steam engine, to make sure that it delivered a desired outcome (e.g. steam engine speed stayed constant, whether train is going up or down hill or on level) - this was an early contribution in what became control theory. Note the words, governors, regulators and controllers.

So why is this not the subject of governance discussions? Of course it was - once such systems were deployed on the railroads (and many other places later) they becaame subject to all sorts of rules, embedded in a complex context 

steam engines should not blow up

trains should not derail

signalling systems should not fail (including human failings) and let trains collide....

so there is then a whole slew of legal, regulatory and ethical considerations that pertain.

No AI or "Algorithm" in sight.

As with recent (many) failings in fairness (and even safety) just in naive use of spreadsheets, perhaps we want to extract what the actual specific problem that the idea algorithm adds to the mix that is actually new.

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