Ethics of Algorithms

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Ethics of Algorithms

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study

    Business, Information Sciences

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    After completing this course, students will

    • Understand the role of smart algorithms for big data, in digital interactions, and in physical manifestations such as robots and the internet-of-things.
    • Know broad classes of algorithms and how they are used for prediction, social sorting, curating, recommending, gatekeeping, experimentation, and profiling
    • Be familiar with some of the main contemporary thinkers and issues in the ethics of algorithms
    • Know and understand the ethical implications of (classes of) algorithms on privacy, surveillance, discrimination, access to information, security, free will, human rights, social norms, etc.
    • Be able to identify stakeholders and ethical implications in healthcare, design, crime, education, science, job markets, business, journalism, warfare, etc.

    Digital innovation involves both the accumulation of large amounts of data (so-called Big Data) through various new sensors (such as smartphones and social networks) as well as artificially intelligent algorithms (software, but also robots) that can analyze and interpret that data (i.e. analytics) and act upon it. The main objective of this course is to develop “algorithmic literacy” which is an understanding of how (intelligent and adaptive) algorithms influence the way we communicate, work, obtain information, date, travel, and so on, but also how we can tackle grand challenges such as crime, healthcare and education in new, innovative ways. Algorithms are not neutral or objective, but come with many biases, choices, and political influences built-in, which heavily determine how people are “seen” by these algorithms, and how they are treated.

    The course covers specifically the various implications algorithms have on fundamental values in society dealing with privacy, surveillance, free will, and so on. For each implication typically several competing stakeholders are involved with opposing viewpoints, value systems or business models. This requires a delicate balancing of interests. Ethics deals with finding this balance, with identifying issues and stakeholders, with employing social and legal solution frameworks, and possibly with judging whether some developments are good or bad.

    The course features lectures on algorithms, ethical issues and domains. In addition we will read and discuss relevant literature, for which active participation is required. Each student needs to write an individual essay about a (self-chosen) ethical problem in a particular domain. Furthermore, each student participates in a multidisciplinary design team consisting of students to find a practical solution for an ethical issue caused by the use of intelligent algorithms.

    Lectures and (interactive) literature discussions.

    Individual essay, team design project, active participation in group sessions, and a digital exam.

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

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