The Nature and Justification of Algorithmic Power
Algorithmic intermediaries increasingly mediate and govern our social relations, across commerce, politics, and sociality more broadly. In doing so, they exercise a distinct kind of intermediary power: they exercise power over us; they shape power relations between us; and they shape the social structures that those social relations constitute. Sometimes, when new or intensified forms of power emerge, our task is simply to eliminate them—to re-establish our independence from domination. But algorithmic intermediaries can enable new kinds of human flourishing, and could support transformative change to ossified social structures that are otherwise resistant to progress. Our task, then, is to understand and diagnose algorithmic power, and determine whether and how it can be justified. This paper uses political philosophy to advance that project—and uses algorithmic intermediary power to advance political philosophy. It offers an empirically-grounded theory of algorithmic power, then sets out the conditions for its justification, paying particular attention to the conditions under which private algorithmic power either can, or must not, be tolerated.
About the speaker
Seth Lazar is a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the ANU, a Distinguished Research Fellow of the University of Oxford Institute for Ethics in AI, and General Co-Chair for the ACM Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency conference 2022. He directs a Templeton World Charity Foundation project on ‘Moral Skill and Artificial Intelligence’, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project on Ethics and Risk, and, in 2022, will begin ARC Future Fellowship on ‘Automatic Authorities: Charting a Course for Legitimate AI’. He is a member of a study committee of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, reporting to the US Congress on the ethics and governance of responsible computing research, and in 2022, he will give the Tanner Lecture on AI and Human Values at Stanford University. He writes on topics in political philosophy, and normative and applied ethics, with a focus on the morality, law and politics of data and AI.
The Mala and Solomon Kamm Lecture in Ethics is supported by Frances M. Kamm, the Henry Rutgers University Professor of Philosophy and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University, and important long-term member of the Center for Ethics Community. Professor Kamm named the series in honor of her parents, Mala and Solomon Kamm, who survived internment at Auschwitz in World War II. The Kamms were dedicated to education, justice, and ethics throughout their lives, and we are pleased to honor their memory with this series. The Mala and Solomon Kamm Lecture in Ethics will be given by a leading philosopher to maintain the Center’s commitment to our disciplinary roots.