Rawls’s Original Position and Algorithmic Fairness

Philosophy and Technology 34 (4):1803-1817 (2021)
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Abstract

Modern society makes extensive use of automated algorithmic decisions, fueled by advances in artificial intelligence. However, since these systems are not perfect, questions about fairness are increasingly investigated in the literature. In particular, many authors take a Rawlsian approach to algorithmic fairness. This article aims to identify some complications with this approach: Under which circumstances can Rawls’s original position reasonably be applied to algorithmic fairness decisions? First, it is argued that there are important differences between Rawls’s original position and a parallel algorithmic fairness original position with respect to risk attitudes. Second, it is argued that the application of Rawls’s original position to algorithmic fairness faces a boundary problem in defining relevant stakeholders. Third, it is observed that the definition of the least advantaged, necessary for applying the difference principle, requires some attention in the context of algorithmic fairness. Finally, it is argued that appropriate deliberation in algorithmic fairness contexts often require more knowledge about probabilities than the Rawlsian original position allows. Provided that these complications are duly considered, the thought-experiment of the Rawlsian original position can be useful in algorithmic fairness decisions.

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References found in this work

A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
Taking rights seriously.Ronald Dworkin (ed.) - 1977 - London: Duckworth.
Superintelligence: paths, dangers, strategies.Nick Bostrom (ed.) - 2014 - Oxford University Press.
The Law of Peoples.John Rawls - 2001 - Philosophical Quarterly 51 (203):246-253.

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