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We need a sociology of algorithms

The shadow of a person projected on a color burst.

Increasing digitalisation and computerisation can lead to socio-legal governance problems and a dominating artificial intelligence.

The Research Handbook on the Sociology of Law is here. Thirty-five authors have contributed to the book’s 30 chapters, covering historical, theoretical and methodological aspects of the socio-legal field. One of them is the Sociology of Law Department’s Professor Emeritus Håkan Hydén. His chapter, “Sociology of digital law and artificial intelligence”, attempts to lay out an approach to deal with issues concerning digital law, artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms.

Digital law deals with copyright, privacy, ethics and piracy in the virtual reality created by our computers. In the digital setting, software and hardware make up the physical and social constraints that are law, social norms, markets, and architecture in the analogue world. Programming code regulates the structure of websites and applications and what actions are allowed within them. Algorithms, the instructions computers need to perform commands, are digital norms, argues Professor Hydén.

Increasing digitalisation and computerisation can lead to socio-legal governance problems. To avoid a scenario where AI dominates, Hydén suggests that a sociology of algorithms is developed, “which makes visible and articulates its driving forces, the hidden preferences it generates, and their potential consequences”. He notes that unregulated AI and algorithms will cause worrying balance changes between nations and private companies. Already, the combined profits of the ten most economically powerful corporations exceeds the pooled revenues of 180 of the world’s 195 sovereign states.

AI’s potential to self-reproduce and develop is another worrying prospect that can be controlled through proactive regulation. If measures are not taken, Hydén warns, humanity may eventually lose its dominant position on the planet.

More about Professor Håkan Hydén’s research is available on his personal page.

You find further information about Research Handbook on the Sociology of Law on Edward Elgar Publishing’s website.


Photo of Håkan Hydén.

Håkan Hydén is an Associate Professor in Private Law, Professor in Sociology of Law since 1988, Fellow of the Word Academy of Arts and Sciences, Member of the Governing Board of the Research Committee of Sociology of Law and the International Institute for Sociology of Law in Oñati, Spain.