We are surrounded by algorithms that affect our lives – and potentially also our most basic rights, our society, and our democracy. Whether chatbots used by social benefits agencies, scoring algorithms that grant credits, ‘predictive policing’ tools that try to predict crimes, or systems that profile us to show us personalized ads: Algorithms determine our everyday lives everywhere. Usually, this happens without us being aware.
Today, the debate on the use of algorithms is largely based on assumptions, anecdotes, and speculation. Where the systems are used, by whom, and to what purpose, remains a black box. As a result, it is hard to have a fact-based debate on the issue.
The Atlas of Automation aims to shed light into this black box. It offers a first directory of examples of algorithmic systems that are used in Switzerland, whether by government agencies or the private sector. It focuses on algorithmic systems that are used in decision-making, thus to predict, recommend, affect or take decisions about human beings, or that generate content used by or on human beings. It does not aim to be comprehensive but rather illustrates the variety of use cases, through which algorithms affect us and our society.