Explanation and Understanding in the Age of Algorithms
Date: 5 - 9 November 2018
Convenors: Mark Alfano (Delft, NED), Joanna Bryson (Bath, GBR), Ignaz Rutter (Eindhoven, NED), Dario Martinelli (Kaunas, LTU)
Sophisticated yet opaque algorithms are encroaching on every aspect of contemporary life. They help people find information, make friends, navigate the surface of the Earth, decide what to buy and sell, decide whom to hire and fire, regulate traffic flows, negotiate contracts, predict epidemics, make medical diagnoses, and identify and track criminals and terrorists. Until recently, such activities were the exclusive domain of human decision-making. Our epistemic, ethical, and political capacities enable us to engage in such activities and-in the ideal case-explain our decisions to the people they affect, to the general public, and to ourselves. Human dignity demands that people understand how decisions that significantly affect their own and others' lives are made. This is one reason why the EU recently enshrined the right to explanation in the General Data Protection Regulation. Yet the most effective algorithms currently in use are not fully understood even by the people who design, build, and maintain them. We are at a crossroads: either pursue and use algorithms that make better decisions but that we do not understand and cannot explain, or settle for algorithms that we do understand and can explain but that make less effective decisions. This workshop will bring together philosophers, psychologists, and computer scientists to explore this tradeoff between dignity and utility.