Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Ring: What We Lose With Digitalization And Automation Of The Administrative State

Diane Ring (Boston College; Google Scholar), What We Lose With Digitalization and Automation of the Administrative State—And How to Get It Back (JOTWELL) (reviewing Sofia Ranchordás (University of Groningen, Faculty of Law; Google Scholar), Empathy in the Digital Administrative State, 71 Duke L.J. 1341 (2022)):

JOTWELL (2020)Government, no less than the private sector, experiences both the pressures and the allure of digital technology and automation. New technology offers the promise and possibility of delivering services more efficiently, rapidly, and maybe equitably. But there is a distinct risk that, at least for some members of society, this new future provides even less service and fairness than the analog past.

It is that risk, and how we might confront it, that drives Sofia Ranchordás’ new article, Empathy in the Digital Administrative State. Looking specifically at the administrative state and its vast systems of decision making, Ranchordás contends that not only is “empathy” crucial in maintaining democracy and ensuring a system of just and evidence-based adjudication, but that empathy is actually declining with increased digitalization. Moreover, this decline most seriously impacts society’s vulnerable citizens. In Empathy, Ranchordás outlines the challenges faced by the vulnerable engaging with a digital and automated bureaucracy, reviews the existing literature on empathy in public administration, and offers ex post and ex ante empathy-based recommendations for improving the administrative state.

What precisely is the “empathy” that Ranchordás finds missing in the operation of the administrative state? She defines it as “the ability to acknowledge, respond [to] and understand the situation of others, including their challenges and concerns.” ...

Ranchordás’ interest in what happens to those in society who fail to thrive in the digital administrative state — those who make mistakes and miss opportunities to which they are entitled — resonates with earlier work that my co-author Shu-Yi Oei and I did in “Slack” in the Data Age. Our article considered the broader question of how increasingly ubiquitous data and new technological innovations now available to government and related enforcement activities renders everyone’s mistakes more visible but does so unevenly with the most vulnerable at the greatest and disproportionate risk of exposure. Here, Ranchordás takes aim specifically at the administrative state and its power to reduce some of the new risks facing the more vulnerable. How governments respond—and whether they can find a stable path forward with empathy—will shape our administrative systems in the age of digitalization and automation.

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