Algorithmic Bias and Risk Assessments: Lessons from Practice

Digital Society 1 (1):1-15 (2022)
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In this paper, we distinguish between different sorts of assessments of algorithmic systems, describe our process of assessing such systems for ethical risk, and share some key challenges and lessons for future algorithm assessments and audits. Given the distinctive nature and function of a third-party audit, and the uncertain and shifting regulatory landscape, we suggest that second-party assessments are currently the primary mechanisms for analyzing the social impacts of systems that incorporate artificial intelligence. We then discuss two kinds of as-sessments: an ethical risk assessment and a narrower, technical algo-rithmic bias assessment. We explain how the two assessments depend on each other, highlight the importance of situating the algorithm within its particular socio-technical context, and discuss a number of lessons and challenges for algorithm assessments and, potentially, for algorithm audits. The discussion builds on our team’s experience of advising and conducting ethical risk assessments for clients across dif-ferent industries in the last four years. Our main goal is to reflect on the key factors that are potentially ethically relevant in the use of algo-rithms, and draw lessons for the nascent algorithm assessment and audit industry, in the hope of helping all parties minimize the risk of harm from their use.

Author Profiles

Ali Hasan
University of Iowa
Benjamin Lange
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
Jovana Davidovic
University of Iowa


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