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Using (Un)Fair Algorithms in an Unjust World

New publication from Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen in Res Publica



Algorithm-assisted decision procedures—including some of the most high-profile ones, such as COMPAS—have been described as unfair because they compound injustice. The complaint is that in such procedures a decision disadvantaging members of a certain group is based on information reflecting the fact that the members of the group have already been unjustly disadvantaged. I assess this reasoning. First, I distinguish the anti-compounding duty from a related but distinct duty—the proportionality duty—from which at least some of the intuitive appeal of the former illegitimately derives. Second, I distinguish between different versions of the anti-compounding duty, arguing that, on some versions, uses of algorithm-assisted decision procedures rarely clash with the anti-compounding duty. Third, drawing on examples of algorithm-assisted decision procedures, I present three objections to the idea that there is a reason not to compound injustice. The most important of these is that one can compound injustice in a non-disrespectful way, and that the wrongfulness of non-disrespectfully compounding injustice is fully explained by the proportionality duty.