Archives for posts with tag: artificial intelligence

(This is a provocation for the workshop “10 Years Of Profiling The European Citizen”, June 12-13, 2018, Brussels, for the panel on “Transparency theory for data driven decision making”)


Perhaps Louis Brandeis can be considered the father of all transparency theory because of this famous quote of his:

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Indeed transparency is commonly seen as an important tool to counter the ill effects of automated, data driven, decision making.

But I cannot fail to wonder: what if the sun does not shine?…. Wouldn’t that render transparency useless? Indeed, wouldn’t that turn transparency into a perfect cover-up, allowing organisations to hide in plain sight, pretending not to be engaged in any nefarious activities?

Below I will discuss the limits of transparency and discuss six different reasons why transparency by itself is not enough. First, transparency only helps if there are enough experts to verify the information provided. Second, transparency is useless if subjects do not have agency and have no meaningful way to challenge a decision. Third, transparency requirements may be subverted or sidestepped by providing information in an opaque way. Fourth, certain decision making process are hard to explain to begin with. Fifth, a decision may be hard to challenge because scrutinising the decision requires domain expertise and sufficient (computational) resources. And finally, transparency may conflict with business or government interests.

These six arguments are presented in detail below, followed by a brief conclusion.

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The first day of CPDP offered an interesting panel on algorithmic transparency that I will summarise here. (There were many panels on very related topics, and some of the remarks made there I’ve used in this summary here.)

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