Can Algorithms Act Ethically?

Dr. Udo Milkau, Director Transaction Banking at the DZ BANK AG and Chairman of the EACB WG Digitalisation and the Use of Data, investigated whether programmed algorithms can act ethically. As a guest speaker in the master course "Financial Technologies", he provided surprising insights into what is actually measurable and what distortions are subject to the human component. Topic of his lecture: "Ethics of Algorithms - Between Automated Decision-making and Responsibility of a Bank".

The topic of algorithms is currently under intense discussion in research and politics. Today, the calculation processes already consciously or unconsciously determine large parts of our lives: whether in granting loans, looking for housing or the cost of insurance. Automated calculations often provide answers to complex questions. The question arises: Does all of this make sense just because it is technically possible?

Guest speaker Dr. Udo Milkau illustrated above all that people need to be aware of what they want to measure at all and which parameters they include in the algorithm for this purpose. The results should be critically reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that they actually calculate what they are supposed to. Milkau sees this as the responsibility of the users of the algorithm. After all, an error-free calculation is no guarantee that it will deliver valid results. Man-made distortions can occur. This happens especially when not enough thought has been given in advance to which factors should and must all be included in the calculation basis.

Technology cannot solve moral problems that could not have been solved by humans before. Therefore, algorithms do not act ethically or unethically, nor are they able to relieve people of the task of solving dilemmas. This also applies to the banking industry. Although it is not possible to work there without automated calculation methods, it is still the responsibility of the employees to check the results for their justifiability.