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Decision-making technologies: a benefit or a threat to ethical professional practice?
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 17:36 authored by William David Wallace
"This thesis is a sustained examination of the moral issues raised by the increasing prevalence of Decision-Making Technologies (DMTs) in social welfare and health contexts. I identify a deep tension between the use of DMTs and practitioner judgement. On the one hand, they can reduce avoidable errors by health and child protection practitioners and improve assessments by adhering to best practice, and minimising common errors of reasoning and bias. On the other hand, DMTs can undermine practitioner judgement by dominating assessment processes, challenging the nature and authority of practitioner assessments, and buffering practitioners from their moral responsibility for assessments. I argue that this tension can be resolved using Aristotle's concept of politikê. There are four steps in my argument. Firstly, I claim that practitioners have a prima facie moral obligation to use proven DMTs, but also moral obligations to ensure that DMT assessments are appropriate and thorough, that they are fair and contribute to wellbeing. Meeting these obligations requires good practitioner judgement and character. Secondly, I argue that neither improving DMTs nor relying entirely on the judgement of individual practitioners can resolve the tension between DMTs and practitioner judgement. I show that practitioner judgement is needed even if DMTs become practically perfect. Furthermore, contrary to the arguments of some theorists, DMTs with advanced artificial autonomy and intelligence cannot replace practitioners as the moral agents. This then raises the question of how good practitioner judgement and character should be characterised. In the third step of my argument, I show that current responses to this question based on Aristotelian phronēsis are unable to resolve the tension between DMTs and practitioner judgement. Finally, I resolve the tension by turning to an account of practitioner judgement based on Aristotle's notion of politikê as collective practical wisdom. The benefits of DMTs can be realised and practitioner judgement maintained through collaborative practice: collective deliberation and decision making by practitioners who complement each other's strengths and weaknesses." -- Abstract