Atlas of Automation – Automated decision-making and participation in Germany

Automated decisions are part of our everyday lives and have a significant effect on the way we live – often without being aware of it. In order to use these systems it must be guaranteed that they are intelligible and effectively overseen. These are some of the recommendations made in the ‘Atlas of Automation’, presented by AlgorithmWatch in Berlin on 2 April 2019. It provides an overview of the state of ADM in Germany.

Automation has long been an integral part of our lives. In the past ten years we have experienced an increase in software-based automation like never before. Systems of automated decision-making (ADM) improve our quality of life and are an important engine of social progress. But they also determine to what extent social participation and inclusion is fostered or hampered.

AlgorithmWatch’s  ‘Atlas of Automation’ provides an overview of ADM systems used in Germany that are relevant to participation. It is a compilation – in this case not of maps and graphics, but of topics that are relevant for addressing the question of how these systems affect access to public goods and services as well as exert civil liberties, especially for people who can be considered disadvantaged or marginalised. The Atlas refers not only to the potential for discrimination that results from the automation of processes and decisions, but also to opportunities and advantages that are made possible or conceivable through the use of automated decisions.

In order to use theses opportunities, conditions have to be met. The Atlas therefore makes a series of recommendations for action for politicians and decision-makers in public authorities, companies and civil society organisations. Two of the nine recommendations are as follows:

  • Regulate intelligibility
    Instead of demands for more transparency, the focus should be on the intelligibility of ADM systems: Transparency on its own is of little help when dealing with complex software and large amounts of data; it also needs to be openly documented as to which data was processed and how the procedure worked.
  • Ensure enforceable supervision
    There already exist numerous regulations that allow the use of ADM systems and control it. It must be ensured, that these regulations are also reviewed and enforced. To this end, the supervisory authorities must be adequately equipped and qualified to proactively pursue this task.

The Atlas provides an overview of the actors who have a decisive influence on the discourse about ADM: Authorities, research institutions, interest groups and non-governmental organizations. In addition, it summarizes existing regulatory approaches and consumer protection aspects of ADM systems with an impact on participation. Individual chapters cover the use of ADM systems in specific areas: Health and medicine, work, the Internet, security, education and more.

Part of the Atlas project is a freely accessible online database containing around 150 actors, regulations, software systems and technologies (available in German only). The database can be searched for products, type/methods, actors and regulations. Search results can be filtered by topic and keyword. This database of participatory ADM systems will be expanded continuously.

The ‘Atlas of Automation’ is available online at

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