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Seth Lazar Keynote: Communicative Justice and the Distribution of Attention

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“Algorithmic intermediaries exercise intermediary power over participants in the digital public sphere—they shape what is possible and impossible, encouraged and frustrated; they shape power relations between us; and, over time, they are reshaping basic social structures, like political communications and civic engagement.” - Seth Lazar

The Monash node of the ADM+S will be hosting a talk by philosopher Seth Lazar as part of the "Civic ADM" project. 

In this paper I argue, first, that algorithmic intermediaries govern the digital public sphere through their architecture, amplification algorithms, and moderation practices, and that they have a responsibility to do so better. This means more than just enumerating and responding to pathologies such as misinformation, radicalisation, and abuse. We also need a positive ideal to aim at. Political philosophy should offer such an ideal, but it tells us only when not to interfere in free speech, not how to shape public communication and distribute attention. In response, I introduce a new theory of communicative justice: an account of the communicative interests that those who govern the digital public sphere should promote, and the democratic egalitarian norms by which their doing so should be constrained. This can guide us in shaping public communication and distributing attention, in balancing the governing responsibilities of private and public actors, and in striving for procedural legitimacy in governance of the digital public sphere.

Seth Lazar is Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow, and a Distinguished Research Fellow of the University of Oxford Institute for Ethics in AI. He has worked on the ethics of war, self-defence, and risk, and now leads the Machine Intelligence and Normative Theory (MINT) Lab, where he directs research projects on the moral and political philosophy of AI, funded by the ARC, the Templeton World Charity Foundation, and Insurance Australia Group. He is a member of the executive committee for the ACM Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency conference, and was General Chair in 2022, and Program Co-Chair for the ACM/AAAI AI, Ethics and Society conference in 2021, and is one of the authors of a study by the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, which reported to Congress on the ethics and governance of responsible computing research.

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