Agency Laundering and Information Technologies

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 22 (4):1017-1041 (2019)
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When agents insert technological systems into their decision-making processes, they can obscure moral responsibility for the results. This can give rise to a distinct moral wrong, which we call “agency laundering.” At root, agency laundering involves obfuscating one’s moral responsibility by enlisting a technology or process to take some action and letting it forestall others from demanding an account for bad outcomes that result. We argue that the concept of agency laundering helps in understanding important moral problems in a number of recent cases involving automated, or algorithmic, decision-systems. We apply our conception of agency laundering to a series of examples, including Facebook’s automated advertising suggestions, Uber’s driver interfaces, algorithmic evaluation of K-12 teachers, and risk assessment in criminal sentencing. We distinguish agency laundering from several other critiques of information technology, including the so-called “responsibility gap,” “bias laundering,” and masking.

Author Profiles

Alan Rubel
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Clinton Castro
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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