Datafying disability: ethical issues in automated decision making and related technologies

Prof Jackie Leach Scully1

1University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

This presentation will look at the impact of automated decision making (ADM) and other AI-related technologies on the lives of people with disability.

There are growing expectations that ADM and similar AI-related technologies will revolutionise the provision of healthcare and other services. While numerous reports have discussed the ethical issues and identified important principles of AI ethics, there has so far been little consideration of the distinctive impacts of these technologies on the lives of disabled people.

From a critical disability studies perspective, one crucial issue is that they are likely to perpetuate damaging cultural presumptions about disability. There is already strong concern that ADM and related technologies perpetuate gender, race, class and other kinds of discrimination, through biases embedded in the data with which they are programmed and that they then generate. For disability there are additional concerns that:

  • current automated systems oversimplify the complex set of relationships between disability, embodied difference, illness, and health;
  • ‘datafication’ of the human body will delineate increasingly rigid boundaries between normality and disability;
  • quantification of embodied difference diverts attention from the realities of disabled lives, at a time when disability scholars and activists are arguing for more rather than less attention to the lived experience of disability.

This presentation will outline the scope and seriousness of some of these issues, and suggest how bioethics can support a more just and inclusive use of ADM and other AI-related technologies in the context of disability.

Jackie Leach Scully and Georgia van Toorn, UNSW



Jackie Leah Scully is Professor of Bioethics and Director of the Disability Innovation Institute at UNSW. She is a CI in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision Making and Society.

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