Way of working
For the “Atlas of Automation” we researched and weighed the topics specifically in regard to a focus on the issue of participation. The Atlas project is accompanied by a purpose-built database which is open to the public.
The current “Atlas of Automation” focuses on participation and the topic of automated decision-making (ADM) in Germany. To focus the Atlas, we used the following approach to select the uses of ADM that we wanted to concentrate on:
Firstly, we started by using the most pertinent definitions of the term participation. From there we defined certain groups of people who might be excluded from specific aspects of society due to age, gender, origin or status (e.g. seeking employment). Secondly, we identified situations where these groups might come into contact with ADM (for example when dealing with public authorities). Based on these two steps, we drew up a list of specific ADM products and technologies currently in use at the identified interfaces which we then categorized by keywords. In the process, we referred to existing compilations of ADM-technologies (such as those on www.algorithmtips.org and those in the EU ADM Report www.algorithmwatch.org/en/automating-society. This list formed the foundation of the database on ADM-technologies which we created in the course of producing the Atlas of Automation.
Within the framework of our internal process, each entry received a point rating in the database which represents the relevance of the respective technology for the aspect of participation in a quantified form. Into the generation of the point rating we included answers to questions such as: “Does an ADM system operate passively (through recommendations) or actively (through the direct implementation of a decision)?” Furthermore, points were given for the critical impact a technology has on the environment, the common good, on self-determination, the physical integrity or aspects of social participation. In addition, we took into consideration which spectrum of actions are available to those operating an ADM system or affected by it (e.g. the option to appeal against an automated decision). We also included whether an ADM system is run by the government or by private actors. In addition to the point rating we documented whether the product or the technology (e.g. face recognition) is already in use or only being tested.
In the course of the development of the database and the point system, the topics that form the individual chapters of this report emerged. During the preliminary work we also realized which issues of regulation needed to be considered in the scope of the Atlas project in regard to ADM and participation, and which actors needed to be highlighted. To us, “actors” in this context are not users or customers of ADM systems, but rather (civil society or commercial) interest groups, NGOs, foundations, research networks, and individual companies as well as government agencies and boards. The decisive criterion for the selection of relevant actors was the consideration of the extent to which they actively shape the discourse on ADM and participation, for example through studies, policy papers or events.
The project database we created during the research phase is an essential part of the Atlas project and we were determined to make it open to the public. The entries in the database, as well as the text in the Atlas, are based primarily on research in literature and on the Internet. In some cases we also consulted with the producers or operators of software systems. Regarding regulatory questions, we asked experts for their evaluation. The Atlas database will be extended and continuously updated.
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