Millions in funding allocated to research into ‘the algorithmic society’

National consortium investigates impact of automated processes on human rights and public values

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As part of the Gravitation programme, the government is awarding 21.3 million euros to ‘The Algorithmic Society’. This research project is a collaboration between several universities, in order to investigate the implications of the increasing use of automated decision making and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Utrecht University team can expect a share of approximately 3.5 million euros.

The use of AI and digital technology in the world around us continues to grow, and that has countless legal, ethical, social and democratic implications. In the project ‘The Algorithmic Society’ (ALGOSOC) researchers from five Dutch universities, led by the University of Amsterdam (UvA), investigate how we can safeguard public values and human rights within the development of automated and semi-automated processes, including Artificial Intelligence.

ALGOSOC is being carried out by a Dutch consortium: apart from the UvA and UU, the partners are Erasmus University Rotterdam, Tilburg University and Delft University of Technology.

Een medicus bekijkt data op een tablet © Studio
© Studio

Interdisciplinary cooperation helps research into digital society

The Utrecht team, which is making a substantial contribution to the Gravitation Project, is led by University Professor of Media and Digital Society José van Dijck and Professor of Public Innovation Albert Meijer, who head the Governing the Digital Society (GDS) focus area at UU. Professor of Fundamental Rights Janneke Gerards, Professor of Innovation Studies Koen Frenken, Professor of Data Science in Healthcare Daniel Oberski and Utrecht Data School project leader Mirko Schaefer complete the team.

The team will focus with public values in algorithmic decision-making in three areas: in the news media, within the legal system and in the health sector.

“This award is a signal that Dutch society attaches great importance to research into the design and governance of our digital society”, says Van Dijck. “The anchoring of norms, values and rights in algorithmically controlled processes requires the insights of cooperating lawyers, data scientists, media researchers and public administration experts. With our Utrecht-based organisation of interdisciplinary research in strategic themes and focus areas, we are excellently equipped to roll out this approach nationally.”

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Fundamental rights and public values

The project is led from the University of Amsterdam by Natali Helberger, university professor of Law and Digital Technology, with special emphasis on Artificial Intelligence, and university professor of Artificial Intelligence and Society Claes de Vreese.

“Automated decision making is rapidly becoming a social reality. In all areas of our life, from health and justice to media and democracy, policy makers and academics alike are grappling with the question whether and how to implement automated decision making within society”, says Helberger.

“This funding for our ALGOSOC programme is a huge opportunity to contribute cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research insights that will help us safeguard our fundamental rightsand public values within the ‘algorithmic society’”, Helberger continues, “and create the necessary governance frameworks. I feel very privileged to be able to work on this critical challenge with an amazing team of experts.”

About the Gravitation programme

The Gravitation programme allows research and work together across disciplines over a ten-year period. One of the pillars of the programme is that it enables cooperation across disciplines and across universities. The researchers set up excellent research programmes themselves, within consortia. The purpose of the programme is to encourage research programmes to achieve international breakthroughs, and it is carried out by NWO on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

In total, in this round of the Gravitation programme, seven consortia with top scientists from various Dutch universities will receive funding for their research projects. Altogether, over 142 million euros of funding will be allocated.

More on Gravitation
All seven consortia (NL)