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CITP Luncheon Speaker Series: Annette Zimmermann – What, If Anything, Is Wrong With Automation?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm


Sherrerd Hall, 3rd floor open space
Princeton, NJ 08544 United States + Google Map
Photo of Annette Zimmermann

If we can automate decisions occurring at key junctures in our democratic institutions and processes, and if we can do so in a sufficiently accurate, fair, and transparent way, what’s wrong with automation? More specifically, is automation objectionable only if, and because, it may lead to inaccurate, unfair, and intransparent outcomes? Or is it intrinsically objectionable at least in some instances because there are some types of decisions that we simply ought not to automate? In this paper, a range of possible contenders will be examined for cases in which automation may be intrinsically objectionable. The conclusion is that automation is morally wrong just if automation itself constitutes a significant communicative wrong against some or all of those who are subject to automated decisions. Three dimensions of these types of communicative wrongs will be explored: (i) cases in which automation expresses morally objectionable negligence; (ii) cases in which automation expresses disrespect, and (iii) cases in which automation expresses an unwillingness to be accountable for perpetrating, or for being complicit in, other types of wrongful acts.


Annette Zimmermann is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Values and Public Policy and affiliated with the Center for Information Technology Policy in the Woodrow Wilson School. Her research interests are located at the intersection of contemporary political philosophy, the ethics of risk, and the philosophy of law. At Princeton, she will be focusing on the use of digital technologies in law enforcement and criminal justice: what are the democratic implications when such technologies distribute risks unfairly, unaccountably, and in a way that erodes citizens’ autonomy and privacy rights? Annette received her D.Phil. (Ph.D.) from the University of Oxford, where she completed a dissertation on democratic theory (“Democratic Enfranchisement Beyond Citizenship: The All-Affected Principle in Theory and Practice”) at Nuffield College. She also holds an M.Phil. from the University of Oxford and a B.A. from the Free University of Berlin.

No RSVP required for current Princeton faculty, staff, and students. Open to members of the public by invitation only. Please contact Jean Butcher at if you are interested in attending a particular lunch.

To request accommodations for a disability, please contact Jean Butcher, , 609-258-9658 at least one week prior to the event.