Publications

Cyborg Accountability in the 2nd Machine Age

Public administration increasingly involves artificial intelligence processes, that is computational process that are designed ‘learn’ from their data inputs. In this paper I argue that, when it comes to imagining AI’s impact on administration, we ought not to treat it as an exogenous shock to the system. Instead we ought to treat is as an increasingly endogenous feature of administrative work and indeed as one that will become increasingly unnoticed and, for better or worse, taken for granted. I set this argument out by addressing the sources of accountability. Specifically I focus on the ‘teams’ from which informal accountability relationships emerge. These teams increasingly feature algorithms as non-human members. Such agents, albeit not in the same ways that people do, contribute to people negotiating and navigating their commitments; meanings; intentions; and actions as ‘plural subjects,’ to use Margaret Gilbert’s terms. Accountability itself takes on a ’cyborg’ air as algorithms start to play a role in how plural subjecthood emerges: plural subjects are the repository of the collective agency that is in turn subject to scrutiny within the accountability forum. While the ‘robot on the team’ might fade into the background, its effects will be profound. People, teams and regulatory approaches will come to be coded more and more. While AI will be navigated in the context of existing team commitments, it is more helpful to think of all agency as ahving an increasingly ‘cyborg’ air: as being increasingly infused with algorithmic sensibilities.

Naming, Shaming, and the Search for Remedy in OECD National Contact Points
A Roadmap to Recovery Proposing a Forward-Thinking Commitment for Northern Ireland post Covid-19

In the international business and human rights legal world, policy documents, communications and reports from the OECD, ILO and the UN have all focused on the socio-economic recovery from Covid-19. They have all recognised the impact of the global pandemic, cautioned against diluting human rights and argued that Covid-19 has created a catalyst for change. To date, the response to the crisis by the Northern Ireland government is to react to unfolding economic crises with initiatives to stimulate the economy and protect business. Although we recognise that this is crucial, a more holistic approach to recovery can help future-proof the economy and ensure that recovery champions a better society. As such, we have proposed a draft roadmap that can help achieve this. We recognise that the rights impacted by Covid-19 stretch far beyond what we have proposed. We have focussed on the key areas that touch and concern the business and human rights movement. This is to start, not end the conversation on recovery and ensure the centrality of human rights protections. This framework would allow the Northern Ireland government, businesses registered, based, or with subsidiaries in Northern Ireland, and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to collectively recover from theCovid-19 crisis in a way that maintains the key tenets of human rights for their citizens and stakeholders.

Dissecting the semantics of accountability and its misuse

We focus on Mark Bovens’s use of the forum metaphor in his accountability model. The forum metaphor has emerged as a fundamental component in accountability’s status as a ‘cultural keyword’, reflecting its extension into the political rhetoric and everyday language of our time. People do not imagine value in governance directly, through observation. They construct it through metaphorical language and, when it comes to how the underlying decision-making processes are described, Bovens’s work is at the fore. Contra Bovens, we argue that his relational perspective could be taken much further. We advocate instead a far broader and more fundamental engagement with the idea of relational accountability. Expanding the metaphors, we point to two other accountability spaces: ‘agora,’ a primordial accountability space and ‘bazaar’, an emergent accountability space rooted in ground-level exchange between different actors. Assertions about ‘unaccountability,’ we argue, very often reflect a failure to appreciate the fundamentally relational nature of accountability: those who use such assertions as bases for action aimed at making situations, processes or people ‘more accountable’ in fact seek to assert or impose a certain form of relationship – one that is hierarchical and monopolistic – and reflect therefore a drive to power and domination.