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Legal Advice Centre

Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre hosted a remote panel discussion on ‘The Promise and Perils of Algorithms in Public Administration’

The event, held on 3 February 2022, considered the way in which Artificial Intelligence is increasingly shaping the way we are governed and how these systems, known as 'ADS' (algorithmic decision systems), often rely on the analysis of large amounts of personal data to infer correlations or, more generally, to derive information deemed useful to making decisions, particularly in the context of immigration and access to social welfare.

Virtual computer generated image of data and cyberspace

The Chair/moderator was Professor Alan Dignam QC from the School of Law, Queen Mary University of London. The panel members were: Dr Joe Tomlinson, Senior Lecturer in Public Law at the University of York; Clare Hall, Solicitor and Strategic Litigation Lawyer at the Child Poverty Action Group; Ciar McAndrew, Barrister at Monkton Chambers, and James Piotrowski an attorney in the United States, practicing in labor and employment law

There was general agreement amongst the speakers that the use of algorithms in public life can potentially be beneficial and lead to more consistent outcomes by replacing fallible human being. However, far from being neutral pieces of technology, algorithmic systems often reflect the (un)conscious preferences, prejudices, and priorities of the people that build them. Even where software developers take great care to minimise any influence of their own prejudices, the date used to train an algorithm can also be another significant source of bias.

Over 60 people attended and participants commented:

"As well as providing an up-to-date and systematic review of the situation, the speakers also discussed the precise definition of a number of key terms and an analysis of their differences to help clarify the debate"

"The focus of the discussion was not simply on the technical aspects of ADS, but also a broader consideration of the legal, ethical and social dimensions of algorithmic decision making. It was clear that the impact of these decision on people can be significant, such as access to credit, employment, medical treatment, or judicial sentences, among other things."

Watch the full event on YouTube.



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