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ACM Issues TechBrief on the Need for Safer Algorithmic Systems

ACM TechBriefs has published a technical bulletin (PDF) on the need for safer algorithmic systems. The brief states that “the ubiquity of algorithmic systems creates serious risks that are not being adequately addressed.” The report suggests significant responsibilities for governments worldwide to develop policies, cultures, and oversight to safeguard their algorithmic systems against unintended harmful consequences.

Published by the ACM’s global Technology Policy Council, the report overview states:

Algorithms are the underlying operating rules that control computers. While incredibly useful and generally benign, when deployed in complex systems algorithms can cause a variety of profound harms to individuals and to society, threatening opportunity, liberty, and even life itself. For example, algorithmic systems underlying e-commerce, search engines, and online leisure activities can exhibit bias. Risks grow as flawed algorithmic decisions become more consequential (e.g., in hiring, judicial sentencing, or lending) and increase to unacceptable levels in life-critical applications (e.g., in medicine, transportation, or the military).

the brief suggests policy implications including:

  • Enabling safer algorithmic systems must be a high research and policy priority of governments and all stakeholders.
  • Organizational safety cultures must be broadly embraced and routinely woven into algorithmic system development and operation.
  • Safer algorithmic systems will require multiple forms of sustained internal and independent oversight.

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