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The loopholes of algorithmic public services: an “intelligent” accountability research agenda

Enrico Bracci (University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 9 September 2022

Issue publication date: 27 March 2023

1106

Abstract

Purpose

Governments are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) algorithmic systems to increase efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery. While the diffusion of AI offers several desirable benefits, caution and attention should be posed to the accountability of AI algorithm decision-making systems in the public sector. The purpose of this paper is to establish the main challenges that an AI algorithm might bring about to public service accountability. In doing so, the paper also delineates future avenues of investigation for scholars.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper builds on previous literature and anecdotal cases of AI applications in public services, drawing on streams of literature from accounting, public administration and information technology ethics.

Findings

Based on previous literature, the paper highlights the accountability gaps that AI can bring about and the possible countermeasures. The introduction of AI algorithms in public services modifies the chain of responsibility. This distributed responsibility requires an accountability governance, together with technical solutions, to meet multiple accountabilities and close the accountability gaps. The paper also delineates a research agenda for accounting scholars to make accountability more “intelligent”.

Originality/value

The findings of the paper shed new light and perspective on how public service accountability in AI should be considered and addressed. The results developed in this paper will stimulate scholars to explore, also from an interdisciplinary perspective, the issues public service organizations are facing to make AI algorithms accountable.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The thoughts and reflections at the base of this article were presented during the APIRA 2022 INTERDISCIPLINARY ACCOUNTING RESEARCH WEBINARS on “The Accountability Research Agenda” held on June 8, 2022. The author wish to sincerely thank Prof. Lee Parker for encouraging and inviting him to submit the manuscript, as well as prof. James Guthrie for his editorial support and the two anonymous reviewers. The paper also benefited from the valuable comments received by Dr. Hans-Jürgen Bruns and Prof. Ileana Steccolini to whom goes his gratitude.

Citation

Bracci, E. (2023), "The loopholes of algorithmic public services: an “intelligent” accountability research agenda", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 739-763. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-06-2022-5856

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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