Risk and resilience in an era of algorithmic governance

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In this chapter we consider a future in which algorithmic governance has a prominent, if not predominant, role in guiding our conceptualizations and estimates of risk, managing recovery in the aftermath of disasters and extreme events, and establishing a resilience agenda for communities and states. We define algorithmic governance as “the entrenchment of artificial intelligence (AI) and digitalization in the processes and components of governance at multiple scales and across multiple sectors of society.” Communities have witnessed the expansion of this mode of decision-making and management in the public and private sectors over the last two decades, particularly after the widespread adoption of Web 2.0 technology in the early years of the 21st Century. Surveillance capitalism, algorithmic policing and securitization, cyberwars and the extensive use of AI-enabled drones in armed conflicts, the attention economy of social media, use of blockchain technology to monitor financial exchanges, and the adoption of “data analytics” as tag line for efficiency are but some of the manifestations of the movement to algorithmic governance. This chapter interrogates the issues associated with this mode of governance in relation to disaster, risk and resilience in the next decade. While algorithmic governance challenges established norms, values and rules of public and private decision-making, it gives rise to untransparent, undemocratic and illegitimate practices of managing the public good. In fact, we argue and provide examples of how this mode of governance can indeed construct new risks and threats, even potentially catastrophic events, and guide our understanding of resilience (or undermine it). The greatest danger, we argue, is that attempts to totally “objectify” decisions fail to account for the contested nature of the concepts of risk and resilience, lack normative dimensions, and create the opportunity for more centralized forms of control over the risk and resilience policy and planning process.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford handbook of complex disaster risks and resilience
EditorsJames Schultz, Andreas Reckhemmer
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780190466145
Publication statusIn preparation - Mar 2021


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