Life and the Law in the Era of Data-Driven Agency
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Life and the Law in the Era of Data-Driven Agency

Edited by Mireille Hildebrandt and Kieron O’Hara

This ground-breaking and timely book explores how big data, artificial intelligence and algorithms are creating new types of agency, and the impact that this is having on our lives and the rule of law. Addressing the issues in a thoughtful, cross-disciplinary manner, leading scholars in law, philosophy, computer science and politics examine the ways in which data-driven agency is transforming democratic practices and the meaning of individual choice.
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Chapter 6: Rethinking transparency for the Internet of Things

m.c. schraefel, Richard Gomer, Enrico Gerding and Carsten Maple

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the extent to which sophisticated profiling techniques may end up undermining, rather than enhancing, our capacity for ethical agency. This capacity demands both opacity respect—preserving a gap between the self we present and the self we conceal—and an ability to call into question practices that are ethically wanting. Pushed to its limit, the smooth optimisation of our environment may prevent us from experiencing many of the tensions that otherwise prompt us to reconsider accepted practices. An optimally personalised world may not ever call for any ‘action’ as Hannah Arendt describes it. Can systems be designed to personalise responsibly? Greater time and research needs to be invested in designing a range of viable ‘perspective widening’ tools, as many such tools either burden users with little guarantee of meaningful engagement, or underestimate the extent to which individuals’ preferences are themselves malleable. Any approach that tries to predict what users might like, or what might change their views, risks the same pitfalls as any other form of personalisation. Instead, we argue that the most promising avenue is to push for diverse uses of newly developed systems, and measure those systems’ success at least partly on that basis. Inviting appropriation and repurposing would help keep users engaged in systems of data collection and profiling. This will not be a straightforward task: sometimes it will be in tension with traditional measures of success and performance. Yet the increasing integration of algorithmic systems in society requires us to widen our understanding of agency beyond a narrow, decontextualised focus on passive consumption preferences.

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