Should lawmakers use algorithms?

It seems to me that we can’t have algorithms directly embedded in laws, because of the highly opaque nature of them together with commonly misaligned incentives. They might be useful as tools for regulators, but the regulators who choose to use internal algorithms need to carefully check that their algorithms don’t have unreasonable and biased consequences, which is really hard.


Here is an idea I’ve been hearing floating around the big data/ tech community: the idea of having algorithms embedded into law.

The argument for is pretty convincing on its face: Google has gotten its algorithms to work better and better over time by optimizing correctly and using tons of data. To some extent we can think of their business strategies and rules as a kind of “internal regulation”. So why don’t we take a page out of that book and improve our laws and specifically our regulations with constant feedback loops and big data?

No algos in law

There are some concerns I have right off the bat about this concept, putting aside the hugely self-serving dimension of it.

First of all, we would be adding opacity – of the mathematical modeling kind – to an already opaque system of law. It’s hard enough to read the legalese in a…

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