Hidden Values: Embedded Values in Algorithm Design

This session is facilitated by Maggie Little, Elizabeth Edenberg, Jonathan Healey, Sydney Luken

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About this session

Philosophers and designers from Georgetown University’s Ethics Lab will lead a hands-on activity examining how algorithm designs embody the values of their authors.

In particular, the effects of algorithmic optimization are familiar, from fitness-promoting wearables and comment-section flamewars. However neutral they may seem, algorithm designs are an expression of values, priorities, and assumptions. A newsfeed, for example, presents challenges both technical — “how might we present what we think people already like” — and normative — “how do we know what people like and what are we assuming about who people are?”

Our activity explores how differences in priority or definition assigned to common objectives produce significant social outcomes. Optimizing for content created by friends, for example, can strengthen social bonds, but can also reinforce echo chambers. This interactive workshop challenges participants to recognize the values embedded in technology and imagine new approaches to their own decision making.

Goals of this session

Participants will come away with a concrete sense and deeper appreciation for how algorithms embody the values of their authors, and reflection on what this means for responsible algorithmic design.

As organizers, our goal is to learn from the ideas and expertise of the participants for the next stages of our work developing learning modules for computer science classrooms.

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