last update: September 2022
We envision a world where technology in general, and algorithmic systems in particular, are used to protect and benefit individuals and to make societies more just, democratic, inclusive and sustainable, be it with regard to ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, abilities, age, wealth, class, or resource consumption.
To ensure that the use of algorithmic systems benefits the many, not the few, we advocate for algorithmic systems that protect democracy and the rule of law instead of authoritarianism, freedom instead of surveillance, human rights instead of dehumanization, autonomy instead of power asymmetries, justice and equality instead of favoritism and disparity, and a sustainable instead of an exploitative way of living.
To achieve this mission, we
- develop and use tools to unpack and analyze the use of algorithmic decision-making processes and their effects on humans and societies;
- explain the characteristics of and power structures behind these complex algorithmic decision-making processes. We point out their risks, conflicts and possible harms to a general public and decision-makers and help them distinguish between applications grounded in scientifically solid, ethically responsible research and snake oil;
- develop effective frameworks governing the use of algorithmic systems, based on our research and scientific evidence, by ensuring transparency, individual and democratic control, and accountability;
- publicly call out misuses and negative impacts of algorithmic systems on human rights and the public good, and campaign for effective transparency and accountability mechanisms. We advocate for the recognition and inclusion of diverse perspectives into all aspects of the use of and the oversight over algorithmic systems, including decisions about whether their application is justified for a given purpose;
- build a community of people and organizations from different backgrounds, cultures and disciplines to collaborate towards these goals;
- promote the broader debate on whether there should be limits to the use of computation-based approaches to human problems, and on how they irreducibly differ from non-computation-based approaches.
At AlgorithmWatch, we practice what we expect from others: respect, fairness, solidarity, integrity, inclusivity, diversity, transparency, accountability. We live a culture of both rigor and forgiveness. We give our best and accept that mistakes are a necessary part of learning, both individually and as an organization. We believe in encouragement, not degradation. We stand by each other.
Our positions and demands are based on evidence gained by professional analysis and high standards of research. We are politically non-partisan and non-sectarian. We call out nonsense no matter where it comes from, stand up to power, and are ourselves open to being challenged from anyone with a reasoned argument. We engage with anyone who exhibits genuine goodwill towards solving problems, be it civil society, governments, public authorities, academia, or private companies.
We are convinced that civil society and individuals and groups affected by algorithmic systems must be a key voice in this debate, and we strive to be a convincing and respectful representative of the public interest.
We only accept funding that does not compromise our ability to address issues freely, thoroughly and objectively. We produce and publish accurate and timely reports of our activities and funding.
As a team, we acknowledge people as individuals with dignity, not as human resources whose value can be quantified and measured by performance metrics. We understand that being a diverse and inclusive team is a continuous process. To make it a successful one, we have to be willing to listen and learn, to see and question privilege and act upon the results. We strive for balanced and diverse representation on our governing bodies and our team.
We don't take ourselves more seriously than necessary. We believe that a day without laughing together and about ourselves is a wasted day.
The vision, mission and values document complements the ADM Manifesto that has guided our work since AlgorithmWatch was founded:
The ADM Manifesto
Algorithmic decision-making (ADM) is a fact of life today; it will be a much bigger fact of life tomorrow. It carries enormous dangers; it holds enormous promise. The fact that most ADM procedures are black boxes to the people affected by them is not a law of nature. It must end.
- ADM is never neutral.
- The creator of ADM is responsible for its results. ADM is created not only by its designer.
- ADM has to be intelligible in order to be held accountable to democratic control.
- Democratic societies have the duty to achieve intelligibility of ADM with a mix of technologies, regulation, and suitable oversight institutions.
- We have to decide how much of our freedom we allow ADM to preempt.
We call the following process algorithmic decision-making (ADM):
- design procedures to gather data,
- gather data,
- design algorithms to
- analyze the data,
- interpret the results of this analysis based on a human-defined interpretation model,
- and to act automatically based on the interpretation as determined in a human-defined decision-making model.
AlgorithmWatch CH was founded in 2020 as a non-profit research and advocacy organization in the form of an association. The Swiss organization cooperates with its sister organization AlgorithmWatch in Berlin in a largely integrated manner, but they are two legally independent corporations. The board of AlgorithmWatch CH consists of Matthias Spielkamp (president), Lorenz Matzat and Dr. Sarah Genner. The head of AlgorithmWatch CH is Dr. des. Angela Müller.