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Ethics of Coding: A Report on the Algorithmic Condition

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EoC (Ethics of Coding: A Report on the Algorithmic Condition)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2017-12-31

"The Algorithmic Condition & The Ethics of Coding [EoC] Summary

The main objective of this research was to prepare a report on the Ethics of Coding [EoC], and present a philosophical overview. Exploring how knowledge forms and ethical concepts are altered in societies governed by the range of coding generating algorithmic digital systems and objects endowed with agency, we name this as ""The Algorithmic Condition"".

The research joined discourses, and objects of the sciences and the humanities, to present a snapshot of the diversity of issues generated by this condition, and survey of the wide-ranging considerations and potential applications of this topic. Further, this report on the ethics of coding and the algorithmic condition asks how can knowledge be ethically generated. The research examines the algorithmic condition within the three domains of social coding, ethical coding, and educational coding, where the notion of “code” was taken in its broadest context, to encompass forms, meanings, and materials from the biological to cryptocurrency.

Social Significance: The dominant practice when considering the “ethics” of a thing, design, practice, process, or situation, tends to concern human-centric concerns, sidestepping the technical. This report asks how can we approach the notion of ethics when in the domain of mass data mining, and the implementation of algorithmic uses of data at multiple levels of society? The research was concerned to canvas opinions on what happens to the production and implementation of forms of knowledge in a digitised economy (as a “data economy” that is part of the Digital Single Market [DSM]). Algorithms are a part of the “toolkit” in the world of the Internet of Things (IoT). In view of this, their ethical implementation should be considered in terms of their contribution to any decentralised or cybernetic system, in terms of its use, transparency, data sovereignty, and any algorithmic procedures. This report examines and defines the idea of “the algorithmic condition” : where the use of algorithms (for the detection of patterns in information; the organisation and analysis of data; the implementation of data codes and sequences; and other computational systems) in societies changes knowledge forms, and requires a new kind approach to thinking about the ethics of technology.

Conclusions: A key question for an ethics in – and of – the DSM environment (for e-health, population, migration, security, communications, education, automation of all forms, and research) is: How can we develop, use, and evaluate decision support systems that engage with data? The question that arises from the research is: How does one become a digital citizen with a clear commitment to ethics? The research draws attention to the question of ethics in relation to ICT issues in Europe; the role of education in addressing the change in knowledge production in this society; and the need to develop new forms of literacy that are responsive to this condition."
Work performed: The consortium of four core researchers - from the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Austria, and Ireland - and their respective networks and stakeholders met physically five times during the twelve-month project, and six times on skype to discuss the work. Each of the four hosted a local public facing symposium with experts, external stakeholders, and other researchers invited to discuss the research topics. After each symposium, the consortium spend a day together writing and discussing the ideas.
Outcomes and Actions: The report argues for an approach to an ICT ethics that extends beyond existing tick-box models; instead advocating that an ethics of coding be responsive to the specificities of future ICT design, infrastructural forms of services, production types, and the types of applications required in the Digital Single Market (DSM). The report had two core findings:
1. The report found that an ethics can be generated using Codes of Conduct, developed and detailed as part of a support system's specifications, offers a way to check the validity of technology specific ethics decision making aids. Further research on specific areas of ICT in relation to the implementation of this Code are recommended.
2. The report finds that a new form of literacy is required to be able to speak to and be expressive of various domains being generated by the algorithmic condition, which the report describes as the need for a “quantum literacy”.
Progress of the project was greater than expected given the limitations of a twelve-month project. The consortium was able to advance the work considerably faster than anticipated due to the timely nature of the topic, and a number of very interested research projects appearing with their findings in 2017 enabled the collation of very up-to-date thinking in the topic. Advances beyond-state-of-the-art thinking were achieved in the arena of thinking around quantum algorithmic models; the input of expert ethics of technology philosophers and experts in the fields of legal, and financial consultants and researchers on the issues of contingency, change within algorithmic conditions, and with the consortium expertise of four philosophers of critically different disciplines, but with symbiotic methods. The final public facing event on the Algorithmic Condition was a ticketed seated event, sold out (approx 200 seats) at the Institute of Contemporary Art [ICA], central London, with great interest in the topic and its present and future work.

The findings and content of this report is of use for any infrastructure, system, network, organisation, institution, or individual engaging or participating with/within an algorithmic condition that engages the use of ICT.
EoC Algorithmic Condition (Sam Skinner 2017)