Responsibility and Retribution, or Why We Mistrust Algorithms

In course of a jour fixe of the doctoral program, Dr. Uhl presented empirical studies, which uncover ethically relevant intuitions about digitalization.

Dr. Matthias Uhl, leader of the junior research group “Ethics of Digitization”, TU München, provided insight into his work in course of a jour fixe of the doctoral program “Ethics and Responsible Leadership in Business”. His research foci are moral behaviour in digital environments and societal acceptance of algorithms. Dr. Uhl gave different examples: studies show, for example, that the majority of the respondents felt unease regarding decisions solely taken by a software. The research group asks why this is the case. One result of its empirical studies is that people do not misperceive errors of algorithms nor do they generally mistrust algorithms. The hypothesis rather is that people mislike algorithms because responsibility is handed over to them which impedes retribution. In the discussion with the doctoral students, further explanations of our algorithm aversion were mentioned: do we mislike algorithm decisions because we value human interactions in themselves or is this a “romanticisation” of human relations? It was also discussed whether the same or even stricter moral evaluation criteria hold for algorithm decisions. Is the often-demanded transparency, for example, really morally desirable? Do we even need a new ethics of digitalisation? Or are the moral problems the same, only the application cases new ones? Dr. Uhl emphasized throughout his presentation and the discussion round that an ethics of digitalisations should not be a mere armchair ethics, but should be empirically well informed. Otherwise it would build on potentially incorrect assumptions about our moral intuitions.